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Piano Lessons

Today’s poem is “Piano Lessons” by Baron Wormser. Baron grew up in Baltimore, and in 1970 he moved to Maine with his wife, Janet. For 25 years he worked as a librarian for SAD 59 in Madison, Maine and homesteaded off the grid on 48 acres. He was Maine’s second poet laureate. Baron has published ten books of poetry; the most recent is Unidentified Sighing Objects. He now lives in Montpelier, Vermont. 

He writes, “I never took piano lessons. I have always been fascinated by the world of music teachers, often sensitive souls whose love for music leads them to a lifetime of dealing with the often less than sensitive. And writing in couplets was the sort of formalist urge I felt when I was young. My sense of form has changed from then, more to things like villanelles. Couplets look easy but are so hard! Hats off to the 18th century.”

Piano Lessons 
by Baron Wormser 

“The Johnsons have her and so must we”: 
That is how I came to know Miss Lee. 
I was to play the piano, if not well 
Then enough so that my mother could tell 
Another mother I was taking again this year—
It was an expense, but I was a dear. 

Miss Lee would coax me and I would cry. 
“I can’t do any better however I try 
It isn’t in me,” I’d wail, then steel myself once more. 
Miss Lee would motion and start to pace the floor 
And we were off again, manacled to one 
Another by our common sense of misfortune. 
I knew it was harder for her than for me: 
She had to watch while I defiled what she esteemed. 
At night she played for herself alone; 
But even then the music was not her own, 
For the neighbor boys would gather on her walk 
And at some bravura passage begin to squawk, 
Crow, shout, huzzah, yelp, bray, 
Till she came out on her porch and they ran away. 
Her talent, the town observed, kept her poor. 
Once, she cursed me, another time she slammed a door  
And ran upstairs. I heard her rolling on her bed. 
When she came down, she smiled sadly and said, 
“That’s enough for today.” Next week came. 
I loitered outside until she called my name, 
Then shuffled in. “Someday you will be great,” 
She said, and I felt she was talking straight 
Past me and into another world where 
There were no clumsy fingers nor fidgety glares 
At the clock on the wall nor hectoring half-notes 
Nor folded dollar bills. I took off my coat, 
And we walked into the room where the piano stood 
For all that we wanted to do yet never would. 
Poem copyright © 2008 Baron Wormser. Reprinted from Scattered Chapters: New & Selected Poems, Sarabande Books, 2008, by permission of Baron Wormser.