Playing Mozart at the Town Dump

Margaret Gibson Click to

Margaret Gibson is the author of a memoir, The Prodigal Daughter (University of Missouri Press, 2008) and eleven books of poems, all from LSU press, most recently One Body (2007), Second Nature (2010) and Broken Cup (2014). She lives in Preston, CT. and is Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut.  For more information visit and

The concerto in D streams out the moon roof.
Inside the car the air is ripe with Mozart,
watermelon rind, cat litter, stale beer bottles,
napkins infused with fish oil, pickle juice,
loneliness, and a mouse nest I shook free
from the flannel sheet folded away and meant
to be saved as a drop cloth. It’s andante time
at the dump. High noon. On the lookout for Ralph,
who likes to ask about my absent husband
with his hand reaching for the small of my back,
I fling paper, glass, and tin into the maw of one bin
and the unsorted detritus of daily life in the other.
On the take-me table there’s a wine glass,
clay pots from Mexico, commonplace plastic
toys, and a toaster. I’ve brought it a book
with a broken spine and a box of old LP’s.
Back at the car, Mozart quickens and spills
his genius onto the talk at the nearest tailgate,
two men in sweats, leaning back, at ease
with their belly fat and old boots. Mozart
raises the tempo and gives one ball cap a flip,
but the men don’t notice, their talk is
more contemplative than you’d think.
One man tells about a friend’s recent by-pass
and renewed heart—the word’s his. He says
the surgeon split him up the middle like a hog.
“It makes you think,” the older one says,
and he pulls out of his hatch-back a large print,
nicked and torn on its cardboard backing—
it’s Renoir’s luncheon party on the river.
Brightly colored parasols and tables,
the wine uncorked, the women and men florid.
Renoir—it must be noon in all his paints,
the impression of light so this-worldly
it’s another world entirely, and ours. Or is it?
At the river restaurant just yesterday, the sun
blew in green gusts, dappling the white linens
on the tables, the sun afloat in the glasses
of bourgeois Chablis. Across the river
in the little park by a beer joint, two men
with loud voices: “You’re a tough guy, huh?”
one yelled and slapped the other man’s face,
then made to punch his ear. Then did.
Both men had ponytails and a misplaced sense
of the Sixties and its abandoned protests,
having run through too many motorcycles
and one night stands, no place to sleep,
too much straight no chaser, who knows?
They socked each other in the gazebo,
drew blood, yelling fuck one too many times
for the wait-staff and the river customers
who couldn’t intervene, but wanted to.
A few looked annoyed. Someone called the cops.
There were sirens, handcuffs, and in the quiet
after the last crunch of gravel under the tires,
a sense of smutty resolution. “Show’s over,”
a waiter announced to the swordfish specials,
the tacos, lush salads, and lobster rolls.
At the dump now, where no one’s wasted,
I hear the man on his way to recycle Renoir
say, “I feel for the guy.” And because
he’s turned his back and cleared his throat
to hide his feelings, I believe him.
“It could happen to any one of us,”
he mumbles beneath the soaring cadenzas
and inversions, now spritely, now sonorous—
Mozart, whose body was wrapped in a torn shroud
and dumped into a pauper’s grave before sun-up.


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