Beethoven Unhappy

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block
Third Place, July 2020
Judged by Ron Singer

To view the trees​
across from his apartment,​
Uncle hired a stonemason​
to knock a hole in a wall.​

The landlord, enraged,​
demanded Uncle move.​

He couldn’t satisfy critics​
anymore than landlords.​
Why can’t you compose​
more like Haydn–​
or Mozart?“​

His orchestras were unhappy,​
always plotting rebellions against him​
for his unplayable scores.​

His neighbors​
would confront him late at night,​
Uncle in his underwear.​

He would squint at them​
like a misanthrope​
confronting beggars.​

His answer to their complaints?​
A slammed door.​

Years after his death​
they still recall his music,​
restless as surf​
rumbling across their ceilings.​

Groggy, they would bang​
on the landlord’s door​
the next morning​
with their usual complaint​
about the awful​

The narrator is the composer’s nephew, Karl, whom music history remembers primarily as the object of a fractious custody dispute. In this poem, however, Karl offers us a portrait of the human side of the great composer (“Uncle in his underwear”), a man who could not get along with his musicians, his critics, or, especially, his neighbors.

The portrait is intimate and particular: “He would squint at them/like a misanthrope/confronting beggars.” And, as the years pass, these neighbors recall the subject of complaint, “the awful/noise,” with greater appreciation: “restless as surf/rumbling across their ceilings.”

Thus, the poem is primarily a genre painting. Its unobtrusively metrical form complements the matter-of-fact tone. Yet some of the word pictures are very vivid, such as the opening: “To view the trees/across from his apartment/Uncle hired a stonemason/to knock a hole in a wall.” --Ron Singer

  • December 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      by Judy Kaber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      To James Bulger, aged 2, murdered February 1993
      by two boys aged 10 in Liverpool, England
      by Christopher T. George

      Third Place

      Dr. Pachango’s Mango
      by Jim Fowler

  • November 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      Notorious RBG
      by Laurie Byro

      Second Place

      To My Old Age
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Waters

      Third Place

      Beggar’s Lice
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Writer's Block