My Mother’s Piano
At the end of her life,
it could not hold a tune—
just as the neurons of her brain
could not hold a memory
of what happened yesterday.
When people around her left home,
died or disappointed her,
the piano was always there—
offering the cool touch of ivory,
the comfort of Schubert and Chopin.
After she died,
piano movers removed its legs,
slid it sideways out the front door,
down the brick steps,
out of her reach forever.
I dismantled her life—unsealed papers,
sold furniture, gave away paintings—
while others dismembered the piano,
removed strings, hammers, dampers,
pedals, cracked soundboard,
then put it back together
with new taut steel wires
and red felted hammers,
ivory keys capped like old teeth,
mahogany case sanded, stained.
I have made it mine—
its dark luster dominates
my living room, my evenings,
tempers my restlessness,
smooths passage to another decade.
Mother is with me as I play,
sits next to me on the bench,
hovers over the raised lid,
or flutters at my back
in that flighty way of the dead.
I play from sheet music
decomposing at the edges,
her neat pencil marks still visible
over and under the staff.
Even in death, she corrects
my wrong notes, lapses in tempo,
I pay attention to her—
more than when she was alive.
In the spirit world, she is with the Romantics;
they may whisper to her of true intent.
Bedtime for Insomniacs
Bolt the door against demons,
intruders, lost lovers.
Lower the thermostat,
avoid overheated dreams.
Turn the cat out to probe
the underside of night.
Put pens away, lock
the diary against entry.
Wash hands and face, purge
the mind of reason and light.
Flip switches, room by room,
on the day’s detritus:
recycled news of murder, war,
court decrees, storms;
dishes not cleared,
Don’t untangle lies, add
costs, or repent sins.
Tell the spirits of the dead to leave
through one window left open.
Or, if they must stay, to settle down,
stop fluttering, cease commenting
on the messiness of life.
August Heat Wave
……………….Until they think warm days will never cease,
……………………For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
John Keats, “To Autumn”
We move slowly as if in sleep
edged by a vision of Venus
with her hot cliffs and lava plains.
On Earth, sand beaches bake,
prairie grass rolls in flame,
while back in your kitchen,
boiled water swells tea leaves,
with a mist that scalds
fevered skin, hot to touch
as the first-time lover.
This air flattens us,
like cut-out dough figures
left in the oven too long.
Our metal rings remember
their molten state.
Those who talk weather
for a living run dry of words.
The sex writer, languid
at his desk, watches
sweat glisten on the girl
he conjures in a scant black top.
We plan a trip far North,
research mean Fahrenheit
in Iceland, Lapland,
It ends as suddenly
as a love affair at seventeen;
a front moves through; hot air
dissipates like volcanic ash.
You reach for a sweater.
Venus was only a dream.
With Grieg in Fjord Country
I did not come to Norway looking for you,
but you are everywhere, your A Minor
Concerto pulsating with the hairpin loops
of our bus high above the fjords.
The notes of your lyric themes
were shaped in these glacier-carved
waters, deeper than most imaginations,
mirror for mountains always under snow,
while your Peer Gynt suite was spun
out of the forest where trolls and gnomes
stormed from the Hall of the Mountain King
across your piano keys.
You laughed at your own music for its very
Norwegian-ness, called it the taste of codfish,
the odor of cow dung in the pasture,
too full of trollish self-satisfaction.
At the Lofthus inn where you stayed in summer,
you stand carved in wood in the garden
by the cottage where you composed
at a piano no longer played, long out of tune.
Surprised by your small stature,
I put my arm around you, though
your wife, also in wood, stands close behind.
I never imagined you a short man.
At the hotel in Bergen,
where you collapsed before dying,
I wander the hallways at night—
your ghost lingers here,
also at Troldhaugen,
your villa outside of town, now
a tourist stop, as you may observe
from the cliffside grotto where they buried
both of you. I pause at your back door
to have my photo shot while absorbing
the lake view, happy for you
that Norway loved you and you lived well.
Home again at my own piano, I play
The Last Spring every day, try to plumb
this unexplained elegy that caused
Tchaikovsky to weep, now me as well.
I like that you felt no need to explain
its sadness, played out with a touch
that does not overwhelm, but brushes
lightly, a bit of mystery in its sense of ending.
© Carol Jennings
Carol Jennings is an attorney, who worked for more than 30 years in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Her poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Chautauqua, The Broadkill Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and other journals and anthologies. Her first poetry collection, The Dead Spirits at the Piano, has just been published by WordTech Communications, Cherry Grove Collections. The Editors of Loch Raven Review are pleased to be able to republish the above poems which appear in The Dead Spirits at the Piano, and thank Ms Jennings and the publisher for the privilege of featuring her work.