American Life in Poetry: Column 648

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Just as I prefer to read good travel writing more than I like to travel, I look to poems to offer me experiences I'm quite likely never to have. Here's a poem by Rebecca Macijeski, a native New Englander, about just such an experience, and a poignant one, too. I'll never disassemble a piano, but I've experienced doing it, here.

Taking Apart My Childhood Piano

My mother and I sit on the back porch,
bare feet in summer grass
as we take the upright down to pieces,
breeze humming through its strings.
 
I extract each melodic tooth and sort them
in octaves for rinsing, tidy enclosure in boxes,
remembering in each how my young fingers
rioted over them searching for sound
 
and the way it grows like its own
unruly animal. The old piano
lies open to Sunday morning sun,
swallowing blossoms that drift over like stars
 
from the apple tree I climbed as a girl.
My mother and I sit here in a quiet
usually reserved for churches,
hands moving slowly over what we gather
 
—piles of soft hammers, odd coils of wire.
We take up wet rags and wash each wooden key
down its surface, wet music
pooling onto our skin.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Introduction copyright © 2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.