Poems March 1986
Piano lessons: a memoir of the Thirties
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me . . .
—D. H. Lawrence
1: It was a kind and northern face: Mrs. Snow
Busts of the great composers
Glimmer in niches,
and Mrs. Snow
Towers above her pupils like an alp,
An avalanche threatening sudden
She does not quite complain,
But only sighs and looks off elsewhere,
Regretting the Symphony, perhaps.
In dreams, though,
The new palms of the yard,
The one brilliant flame-tree
Change back into the elms and maples
Of old, decaying streets.
—The inadequate floor quakes
With the effort of her rising.
The great legs, swollen and empurpled,
Can hardly support the hugeness
Of her need.
They do not understand—her friends—
She has, in any case, the artistic
Among the Chinese jars. Etchings
Of Greece and Rome. The photograph
Of Mrs. Eddy.
Brown sky, so old,
Fading above them all.
2: Busted dreams: Mrs. L.
The mother’s flaring skirt
Matches the daughter’s.
They demonstrate the foxtrot,
Gliding across the living room
And back, each time avoiding with
The same heart-stopping little swoop
The shabby, cloth-draped, pushed-back
Suddenly looming sofa.
On the piano top,
A nest of souvenirs:
Flowers, old programs, a broken fan,
Like a bird’s broken wing.
—And sometimes Mr. L. himself
Returns, compulsive, like a dream.
Real flowers. Thin,
Demanding, his voice soars after dark
In the old opera between them;
But no one sees the blows, only
An occasional powdered bruise,
Genteel. Does he come all the way from
Cuba each time for this?
Are loosed upon the neighborhood
To wander. In the summer-idle
Schoolyard they are the last ghosts
Of the swings.
Nine o’clock, ten o’clock.
Susurrus of evenings.
The moon . . .
Tomorrow, On the Havana ferryboat again,
A little, overneat man at the rails,
Examining the waves, his nails.
Plunging the stiff comb suddenly deep
Into her hair, will turn to greet
Some half-forgotten pupil at the door.
3: The tropics: Mrs. K.
Four or five o'clock.
Around us like a cocoon,
Gauzy and intimate.
—Sometimes she will succumb
To the passion of a nocturne,
And the fury of the climax
Ascends then through the folds
Of secret and abandoned flesh
Into those bitten finger-ends
That press from the unsuspecting keys
A certain exaltation—
dying away at last
Into some long fermata.
(Satisfaction. The brief
And inward smile.)
Dappled with mango shade,
In canvas deck chair that sags,
Sits peering out across
A forlorn sea of half-mown lawn,
Balding, out of work, a sad
Of traffic, far off, reassures:
Fifty-Fourth Street still leads
Off toward the Glades at sunset. And the child,
What is he afraid of?—
The yellow lesson-book
Open on the rack
To that blue, lofty look of hers,
That floats there, cloud-like? The fan,
Placed on the floor, clicks
With every turn—metronome
Once more, dear: Larghetto.
Coming home, the long day ending.
A Message from the Editors
Support our crucial work and join us in strengthening the bonds of civilization.
Your donation sustains our efforts to inspire joyous rediscoveries.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 4 Number 7, on page 41
Copyright © 2023 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com