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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 3: May 2020
Prose Poem: 368 words
Author’s Notes: 102 words
By Robert L. Dean, Jr.

Bach in Vienna


Spanish Riding School in Vienna (1970), snapshot by Robert L. Dean, Jr.

Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria
Snapshot copyrighted © 1970 by
Robert L. Dean, Jr. All rights reserved.


Rococo ghosts look askance from high-browed gallery arches, spill windows of masque ball souls onto champagne dirt, illuminate one white stallion standing stock still, neck arched, head lowered, unused, in its albion saddle and polished eagle bit, to riderlessness, to not-motion, to air un-leapt into, sunlight un-saluted by high-kicking hind hooves, a Hapsburg chess piece biding time, wet onyx eyes pleading with the straight-backed man in the straight-backed chair half-swallowed up by the entrance tunnel mouth, move me, move me, move me.

The man arises, steps into the arena, two steps, three, a portly polonaise in search of a dancer, dust motes swirling round him like rumors of quavers and semiquavers, staves of light playing across fermata-domed toes of red-inked shoes, high-stemmed wooden heels tracking ancient contrapuntal hieroglyphics onto the impressionable iTunes carpet of the present and the Lipizzaner, uncharacteristically—for to him horse is joined to man and man to horse—paws the turf. Perhaps it is the gravitas of the man’s gait, the uncompromising thrust of his chin, the tight line of the lips, the powdered wig. Perhaps it is the stench which emanates from the man’s pores—an odor not of this earth, a smell of which the Lipizzaner has only a vague recollection, the instant of his own foaling, his expulsion from the womb into a world at once unfathomable, formless, chaotic, until his mother licks him and he rises, and, trembling, walks.

The man climbs the mounting step, swings an awkward leg across the saddle. He is used to mounting clavichords, organ benches, gambas, church cantatas. But he has entered the light now, and he cannot, will not, climb down. The horse snorts, prances, whinnies, and so begins the delicate ballet I hear this evening, in my own straight-backed chair, my own tunnel of ever darkening shadows, the exquisite precision of the Prelude to the first Cello Suite, the chromatic climb into bone-white light taking me back by way of some space-time wormhole to a place where Bach’s dreams come true and white stallions dance in sun-bright air and, high up in the gallery, a seventeen-year-old boy-man feels the warm wet tongue of a terrifyingly brilliant universe licking, licking, licking.



Author’s Notes:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach, though he may have dreamed of such a trip, never made it to Vienna. He spent the entirety of his creative years in the relative backwaters of Thuringia and Saxony.

2. The Hapsburg Lipizzaners and their riders are known for their classical dressage, the art of riding in harmony with, rather than against, the horse, an art traceable back to Xenophon’s De equis alendis.

3. See also the entry for Lippizan on Wikipedia; and Kapriole, Bereiter Marcus Nowotny, a breathtaking photograph of horse and rider at The Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Robert L. Dean, Jr.
Issue 3, May 2020

is the author of two books: a poetry collection, At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, November 2018), and The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020).

His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in Chiron Review; Flint Hills Review; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; I-70 Review; Illya’s Honey; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; Red River Review; River City Poetry; Shot Glass; The Ekphrastic Review; and the Wichita Broadside Project. His work has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology award; he was a quarter-finalist in the 2018 Nimrod Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry; and he read at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival and the Chikaskia Literary Festival in 2018 and 2019.

Dean has been a professional musician, having played bass for, among others, Jesse Lopez, B. W. Stephenson, Bo Didley, The Dallas Jazz Orchestra, and the house band for the Fairmount Hotel Venetian Room. He grew up in Topeka and Wichita, Kansas before spending 30 years between Los Angeles and Dallas, where he worked at The Dallas Morning News. He now lives in Augusta, Kansas, and serves as Event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music held annually in Wichita.

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