JOYCE PLAYING THE PIANO
Often, passing by the piano, she would
finger the keys, playing random notes that
sounded musical to her. She could not play
the piano, but liked to find some tune that
pleased her ear. Sometimes she even struck
a chord with the left hand—key of C—
to augment her small design of music, find
some simple blend of notes and play them
—several times, then get on with her day.
(first pub. in Rattlesnake Review, Issue #1)
LEARNING TO READ MUSIC, FIRST GRADE, 1930
Teacher said: “It’s easy.
There are five lines and four spaces.
This is called a staff.
‘Do’ is on the bottom line . . . ”
(and she waved her music-stick . . . )
“Count up: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do . . .
Count down: do, ti, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do . . . . ”
“Now, the lines and spaces
have letters where the notes all go.
The spaces spell: f, a, c, and e – or face.
The lines, starting from the bottom line, are:
e, g, b, d, and f – or – Every good boy does fine.”
“Now, boys and girls,
this is how you read music in the key of “C”.
‘Do’ is on the bottom line.”
(And I ran home and told my mother
how I could read music now.)
Next day, the teacher said :
“Today we will learn music in the key of G.
It has a ‘#’ sign,
on the fifth line from the bottom.
It is called a ‘sharp’.
And now ‘do’ is on another line . . .
(…and I got lost . . .
it all came apart right there . . .
and I still cannot read music . . . )
FOR THE GYPSY, WHO WAS TONE-DEAF
a-minor is for
all gypsy music,
he told me when
we were talking of guitars.
How goes it? I asked him
who had begun
the learning before I had.
I smashed it, he said,
upon a round wooden table
in some dark—
was when I heard
but I have another guitar now,
and I tell you,
because I know,
that a-minor is the key
in which all gypsy music is played.
(first pub. in Quoin, 1975)
The piano stood—large and lonely—in a corner
of my childhood, that long-ago place and time
that are nowhere now. My hands on the keys
were not enough. My mind created music beyond
my ability to play: I found soft sounds upon it—
my trivial melodies—though my mind craved
concerts of skill and fame. I loved its hugeness—
its importance in the too-small room—the idea of it.
I never learned to read the language of music, though
I found words to love and use with all my effort—
white keys—and black keys—of thought and mood.
My hands could write, too hasty and unreadable,
like abstract melodies that came to me. A primitive
typewriter received them then, and saved them from
their illegible existence. To have loved a piano once
is a formative love one does not lose entirely.
Dust of silence.
Dust-light at the windows.
Time flowing backward into time.
Light cannot enter windows now.
Grime of old light has built to a refusal.
Memories have no wish to be remembered.
Emptiness is heavy with an old weight.
A barrier now. Breath cannot breathe.
The door too far—the lock too rusty.
Folding chairs move in the light,
It’s not just their shadows,
dusk is forming.
Soon the moons will enter—
every window with its soft light,
all our dreams
upon the soft
of time in lock
(first pub. in Red Cedar Review, 1993)
THE LOST MUSIC
Why smile when grief is ever near like a lost, lovely
woman who stays at the edge like a bitter memory,
singing her slow, dark song in your mind,
like the blues you play in your heart instead of sweet
hymns—that even those glow in the dark like an open
piano in cold moonlight—a white curtain pulled back
to let night breezes in, while you sit in thick silence,
and watch the shadows, and listen to the footsteps
that go back and forth outside the door
that you will not open, but only listen to see where
they go, and you hear a laugh from somewhere that
sounds familiar, and the sad piano begins to play
all by itself—some ghostly song, but whose hands
are on the keys? And you realize they are yours,
and you close your eyes and let the pain relieve.
POEM FROM CAPTIVITY
now that you
are long haired
a purry smile
your eyes clever that you
have tricked me
do not go away
in the trap
the key by my hand
a sheet of instructions
let me follow you
through the city in the
against my warm
the lights dilating like
and I will
whim after whim
watch me only
in windows we are passing
(first pub. in Gallery Series/Four, 1973)
Once there were holes in cards
to be read as words—
A through Z—
And numbers—One through Zero.
Machines read them, quickly and magically.
I typed the holes, learned to read the words.
But, reading the cards was not
an exciting job, nor an occupation.
My life was outside of this—
out of the working hours.
And after this job another.
Typing. Always typing.
Outside of this I wrote poems—
songs I would sing to myself.
I was glad I could type.
Then, I bought
an electric typewriter,
used it for years—then a computer,
so complicated, so mysterious.
But I learned to use it.
After a painting entitled Wooroloo I by Frieda Hughes
This red sky, full of anguish, full of fire,
ground-shadows pulling forth,
tendrils of green things curling
as into sleep,
this landscape of stones and shrinking sunlight:
roundness against roundness,
edge into edge.
All is texture.
Time’s meaning is lost.
There is no word for time here.
Everything is swift—is one thing,
then another. No time for description.
It is the sky that suffers—
all that color— for the eye— for the mind,
or even for the sky.
One needs at least a bird here to make a cry—
something to flash
across the last patch of light on the ground.
But day is dying down. The relief
of this is too much to bear. Words won’t do.
bereft and locked,
without your key,
wanting to open,
wanting to be
vast room to enter
and let stay.
(first pub. in Poets’ Forum Magazine, 1996)
Our thanks to Joyce Odam for her fine photos and turns of phrase on the subject of our Seed of the Week: Turning the Key. Joyce came up with piano keys! The keys that music is written in! Whooda thunk??
Our new Seed of the Week is First Rain. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to email@example.com. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for more SOWs than you can shake a pencil at.
Sacramento Wildlife Care Association is holding its Quarterly Photo Contest for photographs of birds; we have many shutterbugs in this community who could carry the day. Deadline is Dec. 31. See wildlifecareassociation.com for details.
If you missed yesterday’s late edition-addition on Medusa, go to Sacramento Bee at www.sacbee.com/entertainment/books/article105203186.html for an article about the upcoming visit of US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera on Nov. 12.
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