busk: play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations


The Buskers


For several years a young man, a musician, has busked on the Santa Monica Pier, in southern California. The Pier is a festive, colorful, raucous, touristy place, where languages from seemingly every nation can be heard. Busking on the Pier is part of the festiveness; not only music, but art and performance as well. Busking requires a permit. Space is valuable and competitive.


The young man plays the violin. He plays classical music, and he plays well. He has a music stand, his sheet music clothes-pinned to the stand, for the Pier is often breezy, blustery. He stands straight, swaying slightly as he plays. His arcing bow, the passing clouds, the waves, the gulls, the music, seem as one. 


Most Santa Monicans avoid the Pier as crowded and commercial. Not Miriam. She likes the circus atmosphere. She likes the fisherman, the acrobats, the stands of cheap, and not so cheap, souvenirs. She likes the restaurants, the amusement park at the end of the Pier with the roller coasters and Ferris Wheel. She likes the crowd. She likes the melding of cultures. She likes the violinist.


Over the course of years Miriam and the violinist have become slightly acquainted. He nods at her presence, never missing a beat. She smiles. He has learned, over time, which music pleases her, and that is what he plays when she appears. When she leaves she waves a goodbye, leaving dollar bills in his open violin case. He adds a flourish by way of thanks. This is their way of communicating, they've never had a conversation.


Miriam also plays the violin. She fantasizes about busking. She likes the idea of putting herself out-there, it appeals to her, but she lacks confidence. Buskers seem to have a certain swagger. She seems not to. 


Miriam has a unique outlook on life. She imagines that one’s life is part of a continuum. When one dies their consciousness is not entirely . . . atomized, but maintains a sort of cohesiveness which allows it to become part of a greater consciousness. In this way, by her way of thinking, one’s consciousness migrates in time and space, and in this way one's life doesn't end, though the body is corrupt and decays. One's consciousness coalesces into the form and mind of another human. In a sense, one will be, she will be, reincarnated. She knows that she has lived countless lives. There are no specific memories, only inklings. She knows there will be countless lives in the future. 


As a young woman living in California she knows she is living a fortunate life. She feels most of her lives have been, and will be, fortunate. That may be a trick of her psyche. The challenging lives, the nightmare lives, are a part of her. Perhaps in this particular life she is optimistic by nature, and chooses to believe in good fortune.


She knows she will live every life she can imagine, and every life she cannot imagine. She knows every opportunity and every horror will be realized. She knows all lives pass, no horror is eternal, and a joyful existence is always to come.


When she finds herself wishing that she could busk on the Pier, she knows—I will busk on the Pier. Even so, it is now, in this life, that she wants to busk.


She feels there is something inevitable about it—something uncanny about her relationship with the violinist. Their lives are, in an unknowable way, entwined. She is compelled to come and listen, to stand and admire the man and his Mozart. 


The sight of him on the Pier, the Pacific ocean as backdrop, his slender build, his fine, black-toned skin, his concentration, his rare smile, the swaying of his body, are so pleasing to her that she finds herself drawn to him in a way that seems other-worldly. It isn’t love. She wants to enter him, to be him, the man making beautiful music on the Pier—swaying, windblown, concentrating deeply, smiling his rare smile. 


She never knows if she will find him there. She knows he plays professionally in a quartet for parties and weddings and such. He has CD’s for sale, and a business card with his contact info. She knows he has a life beyond the Pier. If he happens not to be there, she will walk the length of Pier to watch the sunset, the dolphins, the fisherman, the tourists, the children, the Ferris Wheel, the gulls, the other musicians and artists. She might scan the vendors selling sunglasses or hats or souvenirs, and try not be disappointed, not too disappointed.


Time passes. Two unfortunate events occur. He begins to appear less often. She is diagnosed with cancer. Her trips to the Pier become infrequent, only on days she feels strong. It becomes rare that she finds him there, then—never. 


She goes through treatment and comes out the other side, well. It has taken time, and it has taken its toll. She is called a survivor. She doesn't feel like a survivor, she feels that she has died and been reborn.


She misses him. She missed him deeply. She finds his website. It hasn't been updated in months. It doesn't take much searching to learn that he died of cancer just as she was recovering. His friends have posted heart-rending remembrances. Her own sense of grief is profound. 


She often walks to the Pier, stands where he stood. She imagines the two of them—the performer and the listener. She mourns for him, for herself, for everyone who has fought and lost. She mourns for the sunny days he is missing, for the weddings that will be lesser for the absence of his music, for the friends who will never again see his smile. She celebrates the fact that his life, his consciousness, is becoming a part of another's life. The comfort she feels is real, and it ameliorates her pain. 


Still, she misses him. Her emptiness begins to manifest itself as a sense of purpose. She applies for a permit to busk on the Pier. She does busk on the Pier. She plays her violin for the tourists who drop dollar bills in her open case. She plays with love and happiness and sorrow. She plays for a memory. She plays her grief away. She plays for the breeze, for the sunlight, for the sheer joy of playing. 


Poetry by jim The PoetBay support member heart!
Read 103 times
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Written on 2018-03-01 at 02:59

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Marie Cadavieco The PoetBay support member heart!
I felt her sadness, when she discovered that she had survived, and he had not, the random cruelty of life and death. But she lives the dream, and in so doing she keeps his memory. A very moving story.

I enjoyed this insightful story, I loved the connection between the two people that never was, sort of parallel lives, a strange symmetry that some of us have with persons we don't actually know.

Editorial Team The PoetBay support member heart!
This text has been chosen to be featured on the home page of PoetBay. Thank you for posting it on our poetry website!

Ashe The PoetBay support member heart!
I love the ending and the tragedy. It's a good story.

I like it. I like the sadness in it. I like how it turns to be a little hopeful towards the end. But, for me, this write-up seems like a personal narrative, more like an omniscient memoir (if such thing exists), and not really a short story. I don't know why. Maybe because of 'show, don't just tell' thing. Anyway, it was a pleasure reading your work after a long time.


yes, kant can The PoetBay support member heart!
i like very much some parts: when you speak about the easy ways of how things can sometimes be...

Very interesting story, Jim. Well done.