Performance

by Robin Houghton

John Cage, 4’33” (1952)

He would staple a piano string to a cloud
in his empire of structured air – composer
of play nothing, suspend everything – the big unsung

serenade of O unravels. What do you hear?
Fricative chip of a cough, metallic snap stage left,
wet streets ribboned by tyre treads. Breaths

in the past tense, beyond useful. The ‘happy birthday’
you sang over tequila shots in Bangkok
which I don’t remember. Strangers crossing legs,

picking teeth. An age-old threat disguised as a cake.
A brace of whispers, an ice cream van – that smell.
I can’t tell if I’m thinking out loud. There’s a drill

at my temple, unhammering the outside world
into one tiny scratch as someone pushes back
his sleeve to reveal a watch, and wishes away

the awkward sounds of living. One unspoken and
hangs in an unreachable corner of the room
safe in the dust, needing no audience.

Is this the music we came here for? A piano grows old,
cars pass and people wait. Play nothing.
Suspend everything. Empty your head. Listen.