Bill Evans plays the theme from M*A*S*H


Bill Evans plays the theme from M*A*S*H


It’s 1980 and you are playing the theme live
on your last set at Keystone Korner, San Francisco.
Ten days later you will be dead,
but now the song has become your standard
and you are taking it where the words disappear.
Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes
your life is a long slide towards oblivion,
the way the needle glides, the song glistening
at its tip. In these last years you’ve played the Mandel theme
over and over, loving the show, the afternoon reruns
in the motel room, the soundtrack homing in
on a part of yourself where the pain
and peace embrace, to repeating quavers
of light and shadow across the room, the chopper
bringing the wounded in on the helipad
marked with a big red cross that seems a perfect
bomb target. In the reruns you start to see
the things you missed before, the chords
that go deeper inside you, the practical jokes
and antics, the words Hawkeye and company
trade, the rapier wit-play, and the silence behind
the words. In one episode Hawkeye says
If we don’t go crazy once in a while, we’ll all go crazy.
Truth is they are crazy all the time, letting
the words carry them, as your trio lets the music speak
to the instruments, find the key to let the heart sing.
Notes that quicken, soothe, words that fill
the quiet between bombs, or the eerie silence
after the shelling that rocks the set, or it’s blizzarding outside
and the generator is down, no end to the wounded
streaming in from the front, and there is only
the humour to keep it going, the doctors performing
meatball surgery and trading barbs over the smoking
wounds, and the warmth of words. You store them
the riffs, ways of sing-saying what can’t be said, the torrents
of insults from Trapper and Hawkeye, and Hawkeye’s
deep, absent gaze, when the words fail, looking
numb at the camera, his piercing eyes suddenly misted
over, that is the look you have sometimes looking up
from the piano keys, your spirit gone, unaccompanied, to
where the heart sings, out of pain, your hands
breathing impossibly slow notes, and you are
nearly there, like the body ferried
in the medivac bus, or in the capsule of the chopper
powered on rotating syncopated chords, touching
down, then dispatched through triage
to the best pair of hands south of the 38th parallel
and you know you will make it, as the mask comes
down and the lights go out and you float
above the crew,
outside the music.

Kim Cheng Boey

Author: Kim Cheng Boey

Kim Cheng Boey is a Singapore-Australian poet who has published five collections of poetry and a travel memoir entitled Between Stations. His latest book Gull Between Heaven and Earth is a historical novel based on the life of the Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu.

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