On these snow-white pages,
Fingers, bled with cold,
Frozen in the ages,
Struggle to take hold

Of worlds whited-out
By the stage’s blinding moats,
Paralyzed by doubt
And disappearing notes,

Scratching in the night
At forgotten hieroglyphics,
Hung up on the sleight
Of hand, of specifics

Left behind like skins
To illuminate the keys
With discarded fashions
And long-dead galaxies.

June 20th, 2004
12:06 P.M.–12:51 P.M.


This came from the concept of my fictional pianist, lost in the Himalayas, his fingers bleeding from the cold and climbing. I’ve been there twice and played a concert in Kathmandu back in 1964. I did the yeti films in the Chugach as a lazy substitute for part of that experience.
Beckett said that the characters of Proust are like giants buried in the ages, touching the past and the future at the same time.
The poem is a metaphor for writing, especially in the disappearing ink of altitude, where you can’t remember anything once you’re above 18,000 feet and without oxygen. “Metaphor” is Greek for transcription, translation.
Every pianist has been somewhat horrified by the Harvey Keitel character in the film Fingers, playing Bach’s Toccata in E minor, his fingers bleeding on the keys.
The high priestly language represented by Egyptian hieroglyphics was probably chanted or sung.
Every concert pianist worries that the hieroglyphics of music, what T. S. Eliot called “the inexplicable mystery of sound,” are koans, paeans, runes out of forgotten cultures that can only be partly absorbed, at best, by a modern audience.