Piano Fire

By Emerson, Claudia | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Piano Fire


Emerson, Claudia, The Virginia Quarterly Review


How she must have dreaded us and our sweaty coins, more

than we hated practice, the lessons, scales, the winter-hot parlor,

her arthritic hands, the metronome's awful tick. She lectured

to us about the history of the piano: baby and concert grand,

spinet and player had come across oceans in the holds of ships,

across continents in mule-drawn wagons, heavier than all the dead

left behind. On her face we could see the worry: all the struggle had come

to this, the tacky black upright she had once loved haunting the room

it could never leave. And her piano was now part of a mute,

discordant population doomed to oldfolks homes, bars, church basements,

poolhalls, funeral parlors-or more mercifully abandoned

on back porches where at least chickens could nest, or the cat have kittens.

So when she could no longer play well enough even to teach us,

she hired some of the men to haul out and burn the piano

in the field behind the house. …

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