National Poetry Month: Poems About Music, Day 25 of 30

The routine of lessons and practicing would not, at first glance, seem to offer much for a poet (or a screen writer, or painter for that matter), but, in fact, its little drawer of poems isn’t empty. To wit, a few samples:

Piano Lessons
By Billy Collins

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 9.08.49 PM
One of many books of technical piano studies that evoke boredom unto dread.

My teacher lies on the floor with a bad back
off to the side of the piano.
I sit up straight on the stool.
He begins by telling me that every key
is like a different room
and I am a blind man who must learn
to walk through all twelve of them
without hitting the furniture.
I feel myself reach for the first doorknob.

He tells me that every scale has a shape
and I have to learn how to hold
each one in my hands.
At home I practice with my eyes closed.
C is an open book.
D is a vase with two handles.
G flat is a black boot.
E has the legs of a bird.

He says the scale is the mother of the chords.
I can see her pacing the bedroom floor
waiting for her children to come home.
They are out at nightclubs shading and lighting
all the songs while couples dance slowly
or stare at one another across tables.
This is the way it must be. After all,
just the right chord can bring you to tears
but no one listens to the scales,
no one listens to their mother.

I am doing my scales,
the familiar anthems of childhood.
My fingers climb the ladder of notes
and come back down without turning around.
Anyone walking under this open window
would picture a girl of about ten
sitting at the keyboard with perfect posture,
not me slumped over in my bathrobe, disheveled,
like a white Horace Silver.

I am learning to play
“It Might As Well Be Spring”
but my left hand would rather be jingling
the change in the darkness of my pocket
or taking a nap on an armrest.
I have to drag him in to the music
like a difficult and neglected child.
This is the revenge of the one who never gets
to hold the pen or wave good-bye,
and now, who never gets to play the melody.

Even when I am not playing, I think about the piano.
It is the largest, heaviest,
and most beautiful object in this house.
I pause in the doorway just to take it all in.
And late at night I picture it downstairs,
this hallucination standing on three legs,
this curious beast with its enormous moonlit smile.


Death of a Pianist

Adam Zagajewski

While others waged war
or sued for peace, or lay
in narrow beds in hospitals
or camps, for days on end

he practiced Beethoven’s sonatas,
and slim fingers, like a master’s,
touched great treasures
that weren’t his.


and on the lighter side:

Piano Tuner, Untune me That Tune

by Ogden Nash

I regret that before people can be reformed they have to be sinners,
And that before you have pianists in the family you have to have
When it comes to beginners’ music
I am not enthusic.
When listening to something called “An Evening in My Doll House,” or “Buzz,
Buzz, Said the Bee to the Clover,”
Why I’d like just once to hear it played all the way through, instead of that
hard part near the end over and over.
Have you noticed about little fingers?
When they hit a sour note, they lingers.
And another thing about little fingers, they are always strawberry-jammed or cranberry-jellied-y,
And “Chopsticks” is their favorite melody,
And if there is one man who I hope his dentist was a sadist and all his teeth
were brittle ones,
It is he who invented “Chopsticks” for the little ones.
My good wishes are less than frugal
For him who started the little ones going boggie-woogal,
But for him who started the little ones picking out “Chopsticks” on the ivories,
Well I wish him a thousand harems of a thousand wives apiece, and a
thousand little ones by each wife, and each little one playing “Chopsticks” twenty-four hours a day in all the nurseries of all his harems, or wiveries.

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