The Piano Lesson
Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios

The Piano Lesson

Picture me: shy, hungry girl at the door
peering into the dark interior,
dog-eared Thompson’s 15 Easy Pieces
clutched to my gingham flat-chested dress.
Watch as I descend into the scent of old paper
and mothballs
to perch on a stack of encyclopedias,
Volumes A through E,
nobby covers worn smooth by young bottoms
where so many before me sat,
fingers curved and hesitant
while the metronome ticked,
and Ms. Schwab strutted behind.

Here, aeroplanes through elephants
lift me to the keyboard,
my Buster Browns scuffing
the underbelly of the upright,
its dark mahogany skin
cracked and scaled like the rattled snake
I saw my father kill in the field.

And nested on top of the piano,
pungent, overripe bananas
curve over a crockery bowl,
bobbing time with my left-hand thump.

Watch as I lose my place and forget the tempo
In the “Indian War Dance,” doubting the metronome.
Ah! those yellow wags,
pencil sticks held in the air,
chiding me for too little practice.

So this is what it comes to,
how it ends without ending:
Late afternoon nudges through the lace curtains
and slithers across the dark oriental,
and I hear the back-and-forth traffic
of laborers returning home.
The revving of their engines
keep time as they beep and brake
and mix with the ticks and tocks
of the upstanding beat, while I struggle
to keep up the harmony.

Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios

is professor emerita from American University and the artistic director of the Redwoods Opera in Mendocino, California. Her solo recitals throughout the US, South America, Scandinavia, Japan, and Europe have been acclaimed. Recently featured in Tupelo Press's 30/30 challenge, she has been published in Clementine, Poeming Pigeon, Crack the Spine, The Feminine Collective, and Edison Literary Review.  Her chapbook, unraveled, won second prize in the Yellow Chair Press Competition and is forthcoming.