I could never play as well as my sister
her fingers darted amongst onyx and ivory
like fish slipping through coral, winding her way up each crescendo
whispering through scales with every pianissimo
hands poised before she even tapped out a melody. My fingers stumbled
out like drunken men from bars
pinky throwing the inebriated
first punch at my thumb,
perpetual pub fistfight.
Last night we went to her recital
and I listened with one ear as
a barrage of virtuosos
clunked on stage
black dress shoes and ribbons cascading down prodigy backs
pressing out etude upon etude
variations upon other variations
until Chopin interlaced with Czerny
and Rachmaninoff waltzed with Liszt. My father listened, too
with two ears and his spine
tingling at every B flat and falling grace note
humming to the tune of each shrill sonata
his gnarled hands playing along on a keyboard
only he could see.
I tried to teach myself the chords to a movie soundtrack, opening notes of a show tune
but my fingers would weaken at every black key
and Inspector Javert would falter on high notes, unraveling from hands,
sliding out from underneath wet,
sweating palms. I would never feel that
the pizzicato on taut strings. Perhaps,
shutting the mahogany lid
was not the worst
My oblivious father is suddenly an instrumental connoisseur,
as he never fails to remind me.
That, he points to a Russian girl,
violin shaded by her slick, protruding bun, spine pulled as tight as a fishing wire,
is a good one,
from 1880 or so.
You can tell by the sound—
and the slender apparatus howls out a low, lone note
horsehair bristles vibrating against each dark string—
rich, he remarks, isn’t it?
Rich, indeed, I say,
an adjective that will never apply to us if we decide that a Steinway
would look nice on our living room
The other day I realized
that you were the same things, except I
could play you,
with a few unexpected staccatos
peppered about sheet music
smooth as the hood of a baby grand. But even throughout my frayed concerto,
your lid would snap on my hands like the recalcitrant
beaks of hungry birds.
My fingers played you for what you truly were
sans sheet, sans conductor
only stairs upon stairs of endless columbine
leading to the midnight ebony of your
My father is resolute in his dream
of expanding his limited musical prowess. I see him now,
coattails flared above a leather bench
back and fingers arched like
Beethoven, Bach, and other gray-haired, high-foreheaded Austrians.
Lost in a ragtime piece,
perhaps Joplin or the tumbling notes
of Basie. I pass the maroon grand of my childhood,
sitting patiently on an
oriental rug in the foyer.
O’ black, hopeful beast
golden harped, thundering
what have I ever done,
to deserve your unconcern.