Old Pianos

Apr 24, 2020

Today’s poem is “Old Pianos” by Marcia F. Brown. She is the author of four books of poetry, editor of the anthology, Port City Poems, Contemporary Poets Celebrate Portland, Maine, and an essay collection for book groups.  Marcia served as Portland’s poet laureate and since 2011 she has hosted a monthly reading series featuring local authors and poets in her home town of Cape Elizabeth, ME.

She writes, “It seems that many of the spaces where I participated in activities as a child -- Sunday school, Girl Scouts meetings, summer camp, dance lessons -- had these old pianos sitting in the corner, undoubtedly donated by families who no longer had any use for them. But to kids (and some adults too) they were like magnets -- you just had to go press the keys. I started out writing about that attraction, and the poem took me in its own direction, contemplating old age, its music and its silences.”

Old Pianos
by Marcia F. Brown

What is it about those old abandoned claviatures
you find in summer lodges, closed up for the season,
a dart board hanging
with all of the darts in a riddled eye --

or basements of churches, cold as folded metal chairs,
any old Grange hall, Masonic temple, former
playhouse where nervous ghosts trail in and out
of the wings, dropping their lines?

Left behind, those two ton uprights stand
shimmed on the bare wood floor, sombre
veneer alligatored and flaking, breathing
vast silences in sad rooms.

If you are standing there in the stagnant motes
and poor light,
you have to go to it -- lift the cover,
fold it back if it will go – sticking

and creaking, as if protecting its tenderest parts.
You will admire the once dignified
crest in gold and red, its name that few remember,
but alone, remains intact.

Survey the splintered ebony of sharps and flats,
stroke a key – run a little scale.  It’s like visiting
someone in the nursing home: some notes are always missing
but the rest are there all right.

You reach for the forte pedal, spread your hands
and  play a little Waltz Viennese to see
what it remembers.  It returns a hesitance,
the sighs of sleep disturbed.  You try

with just the right amount of pressure, slow release,
to summon out a note that no one’s heard
in thirty years, soft but true.  You begin to hear
the silences not as dumb keys,

the odd off-kilter phrase, not as unpleasing,
but as music you never learned
from spaces no one knows, strains
the cavernous heart has held

in its echoing, ruined shell.

Poem copyright ©2010 Marcia F. Brown. Reprinted from What on Earth, Moon Pie Press, 2010, by permission of Marcia F. Brown.