Posts Tagged ‘piano’




all day the upright

grand piano dreams of hands

that play sonatas

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A piano is just

some wood and strings

until it’s touched—

and then it sings.

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Votre âme est un paysage choisi / Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques / Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi / Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

            —Paul Verlaine, “Claire de Lune”



I hate the way my fingers stumble

through the prelude—in my ear,

it is beautiful, the phrases open

and flowing, and I hum sincerely, as if

with song I could make my hands

more nimble. There are fields,

golden, inside the arpeggios,

and they part as if the wind has blown

a place for a path, and then

a thousand thousand birds

take flight just before night—

or at least that is what I

want to hear. But I am clumsy,

an oxen trampling in the field

who trips in every irrigation ditch.


I have read that by the time

the suite was published, Debussy

hated the sound of it, deplored

his earlier style. I try to imagine him

here in the living room, his thin moustache,

his thick black bangs, oh how

he would cringe, revile my lack

of sensitivity. And how I would hate

to disappoint him. Both of us

miserable, both of us abhorring

what we hear—I would stop playing,

I would, and walk over to him

as he scoffed, and I would say,


Look, look Claude,

how the moon is full, so large there

on the horizon. And we’d step

out onto the porch.

There would be no birds,

no wind to part the field,

and he would slip his hand

toward the moon, and say,

There, there, that is what I was trying to say.

And I would let my empty hands


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Cosi e’, se vi pare
(That’s the way it is, if it seems that way to you)
—Italian saying

Under my fingers,
the chords are familiar,
allegretto, in 2/4 time.
I lean into the ritardandos,
swelling the passing tensions,
failing to remember to exhale.
The lyrics, perhaps because
they are in German,
are beautiful. I can forget
that they speak of sleepless
nights and helplessness,
and dreams that languish
unfulfilled. My voice drifts
into the rafters. What
do I know of dreams?
There is so much I do not know.
Even this life I call my own.
What do I know of it?
Who taught them to sing,
the birds in autumn?
Who taught them to dance,
the leaves? Tonight, I do not see them,
the shadows my voice moves through
as I follow the staffs in front of me.
Nor do I think of translation. Nor
do I think of who is listening,
nor of who is not. For now,
there is Schumann and Heine,
there is this voice that is borrowing me,
there is this song that says
it must be sung.

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Dusting the Piano

The best part, of course,
is dusting the keys, sliding

the damp rag

from top to bottom, from high

notes to low,

over the blacks and into
the valleys of the smooth

long whites, how

a showering of music then

fills the room.

I nearly wish there were

more work

to do. Sometimes I forget there
is joy to be found in just touching

a thing, though

I have touched it a thousand

thousand times

before. How the skin meets it
anew. Sometimes I forget that

I know what

a hand can do, oh the smooth

of it, oh

the slide, the skim, the skate of it,

oh the slipping,

the flutter, the long and longing

(remember?) glide.

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“Mom,” he says,
“I love this note.”
I sit beside my boy
on the bench
and I say, “It’s a D,
a low D.”
And he plays
the white key
again and again
and again and
again with animal
ferocity. “Can you find
another D?” I ask,
and he finds another,
to my delight, and another
and another and another.
Then he plays the Ds
with two hands—
one a bass and one
a thrumming, heavy beat.
Again, again,
again, again,
his body is a-thrill
with it. “I love this note,”
he says again,
his eyes electric,
wild with tone,
“Mom”, he says,
“will you write
this down?
Please mom,”
he begs, as he
hammers the Ds
with an almost
violent grace.
While he sleeps,
I draw the darksome notes
in his rhythmic trance
on two otherwise empty staves.
The notes are the Union
Pacific westbound;
and they are the boy,
his feet eager as he pounds
across the field;
and they are the railing
of hail in the orchard;
and they are the hands
of a boy who is banging
out his rampant joy, freed
from a language
dipped in lead,
God, he’s free,
he is pushing all of himself
into D; and they are
the boulders
tumbled by snowmelt,
thundering along
the full riverbed;
the sound of the heart
when it beats for no reason
except that it
was made to beat.

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At thirteen, after eight years
of piano lessons, I lost myself
in a Mozart Sonatina. It was
a competition. I was sitting
at a grand piano at the front
of a church. The judge sat
in the first pew. My dad sat in the back.
I made it through the long runs
of the first movement. Through
the slow diminished chords
of the second. I was clumsy,
my rhythms uneven, my fortes not
convincing, my arpeggios stuttered.
My fingers did not know what they were doing,
though we had been practicing
together for months, though they
had had many good teachers.
I wore a pin-striped tuxedo,
a white ruffled shirt. It was fitted too tight
in my shoulders, but it made me
feel what, like a man? At least
not like a girl. God, I wanted
it over. At the end of the third movement,
I reached to the top of the treble keys
before coming back down
in the final run, but somewhere at the top
my hands returned to the notes of the first movement.
There was nothing to be done
but to finish the thing the way it had begun.
The judge shuffled through
the sheet music, trying to discern
what had happened. I did not cry,
not until I left the room
and I held my dad and he told me
the terrible lie that I had done fine.
He said it with so much love,
but it wasn’t true.
I don’t know where the lines are
between truth and love. Why do we
protect each other the ways that we do?
What else could he say? It doesn’t much matter.
He loved me. I grew out
of the shirt. I told myself the truth.

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I stretch my span
for the low, low D, but
over-reach and hit a C.

The nocturne
bristles on its slender staves.
Clumsy hands grope to apologize—

they stutter and blunder
through intricate ornaments
and fumble in the chorale.

In my mind, it is so lovely.
I hear Chopin’s consoling swell
as the legato chords progress.

Oh curve of the hand,
I remember you well,
palm hollowed

so only the finger pads touch.
In my mind, there are
lovers dancing.

I keep my shoulders soft.
In my mind,
the moon appears.

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