Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol.21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Piano Fire

How she must have dreaded us and our sweaty coins,
more than we hated practice, the lessons,

scales, the winter-hot parlor, arthritic
hands, the metronome’s 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: the struggle had come to this,

the black upright she had once loved haunting
the room it could never leave. And her piano

was now one 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. We watched the keys catch, furious, and all
at once, heard in the fire a musiclike relief

when the several tons of tension let go, heat
becoming wind on our faces. We learned that

when true ivory burns the flame is playful,
quick, and green. And in the ash, last lessons:

the clawed brass feet we have never before noticed,
the harp’s confusion of wire, and the pedals we’d worn

thin, sharped like quenched-hard tongues—loud, soft,
sustain. We waited with her until they were cool enough to touch.  

Reprinted from Figure Studies, 2008, with permission from Louisiana State University Press and Kent Ippolito.

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