A Beat With No Melody



“…love’s not the song, but after
like the mute, remembered chorus of the rain
     that stains the walk
long after falling, or the lifeless stalk
     still hoisting its head of grain.”


Winter haltingly segues into spring, the same calendar space where death became a memory, taking over the home in which I could not bear to remain.

Lately the sun has burned furiously before falling. One has to look away as it passes out of sight.

But then sunset simmers, its bright traces receding in a thinning plume beyond the tree line. Bright nursery colors bubble into a reduction of deep rose and bruised plum. Clusters of geese shadowed in sheer black dot the snowy marsh like musical notes.

I only recently discovered that the last book my husband Jim read in the home where he died was the same thick biography of Alexander Hamilton that Lin-Manuel Miranda had picked up for a vacation trip . . . with epic musical results.

As time has passed since Jim’s spring solstice death, there seems so much on which to fill him in: “Now it’s a hip-hop musical!” I exclaim, holding the book up to him in the fashion of an Executive Order (by an executive whose identity he would find yet more implausible). He tilts his head and nods, smiling, as he runs through the immense internal musical catalogue he had amassed by the time his heart stopped beating.  Of course, he thinks, what a wonderful idea.

I never see myself visiting Jim on his side of the veil, but picture him back in this one–or, less frequently, watching over us in that thin in-between space in which one can “catch a glimpse of,” or even lead a soldier’s chorus from, the other side. (“My love, I’ll see you on the other side,” Hamilton tells his wife, who for the half-century she outlives him can only catch a glimpse of him in the eyes of the living.)

Perhaps we can only imagine the imaginable.

The same line appears in three songs in Hamilton, but never in the same simile’s company.

First, scrappy young Alexander Hamilton reflects“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. . . . Is it like a beat with no melody?”

Hamilton is speaking of his own death: he does not know what metaphor will capture it. But even then he had experienced so much death–of the mother who loved him, of his countrymen and women in the Leeward Islands hurricane–that he did not need to imagine it, any more than I now need to imagine my husband’s; it is well beyond simile, all too vivid and concrete.

Later, after Hamilton has experienced yet more death in war, and the means of his own fate, if imminent, seems overwhelmingly likely to be of a piece with fellow soldiers’, Manuel dispenses with metaphor, and the line stands unadorned: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory…”

But he endured.  He not only was alive–not drowned, not slain in battle–but survived his son, to endure what is to every parent the indescribable but all-too imaginable unimaginable.

Finally, within the space of a bullet fired ten paces away, Hamilton realizes not only what the mechanism of his own death will be, but that his first simile was faulty; he understands that after all There is no beat, no melody.”

My husband died in our Hamilton-era home.  In his last hours, I felt his immense intelligence, including his vast knowledge of music and melody, disappear into the vastness outside his body. Even then his heart kept beating until it slowed to a stop as the new spring began showering its own rain of melody.

Love is both the song and after.

About Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She also is an adjunct professor at a law school on the banks of the Charles and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2020 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with Wordpress protocol and the numerous other wee buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.
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7 Responses to A Beat With No Melody

  1. Ann says:

    You know how to reach a person’s sadness with beautiful words
    and thoughts of people we have known personally and historically.
    Hamilton is a famous name and musical. Thank you
    for your smart, beautiful writing. It is a pleasure to read your blog.
    Love to you and your family.

    • Ann says:

      I just reread this beautiful message — it makes me very sad — I miss Jim so much, too. Thank you for these beautifully written and photographed remembrances. of a wonderful
      husband, doctor, music lover — a life beautifully lived. He is missed by all of us.

  2. Allan G. Smorra says:

    So many memories, emotions and feelings in so few words, Stephanie. Your posts are a joy to read and a treasure to reflect on.

  3. Carri Coltrane says:

    Love is ALL. Love is the beat, the melody, the silence, the awareness, the listening, the crescendo, the diminuendo, the abruptness, the inevitable, the clever, the genre, the rit,, the pick up, the coda, the repeat, the dynamics in constant flux, the careful phrasing, the meter, the tempo, the lilt, the lick, the modal implication, the substitution, the beams, the stems, the dots, the ties, the lines, the spaces, the clefs, the interpretation, the heart connection, the staffs, the groove, the riffs, the memorization, the practice, the performance, the bow, the bow, the strings, the skins, the wood, the brass, the gold, the silver, the solos, the breath………the arrangement, the form, the verse, the chorus, the surprise bridge, the intro, the prelude, the interlude, the postlude, the forte, the pluck, the colors, the tones, the choices abundant, the rivers of creation that spill out into the universal ocean where multitudes of compositions are swimming in schools; and the songs and suites and sonatas and sonatinas, waltzes, nocturnes, etudes, inventions, concertos, ballades, the movements and R&B, and pop, and jazz and rock and roll, the wax the wain, the takes, the masters, and the mothers.

    • Carri Coltrane says:

      Stephanie, would you please insert “measures” where you think it belongs and it can be either “and measures” or “, and the measures”, or “measures”. Thank you! And most of all, as always, thank you for your inspiration and the healing that I receive from the fruits of your incredible mind’s thought process that you so freely share.

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