Literary Hook: ‘Piano Lessons’ … ‘drawn toward a startling luminescence’

Christine Swanberg
Christine Swanberg

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

Piano Lessons

Whenever I hear “Rhapsody in Blue” —

its high notes fluttering like cabbage moths,

its twisted and turbulent augmentations —

I feel the kind, thin, succulent-veined hand

of Mrs. Christiansen, my piano teacher,

brushing my right wrist,

settling like an elfin moth.

She’s affirming my meager meanderings

on the cherry wood piano that smells

of Lemon Pledge. She’s with me all the way

through Now-I-Start-With-Lesson-One,

Making-Music-Is-Such-Fun to Blue Nocturne.

She’s snapping her sallow, freckled fingers

to that “Dog Gone Boogie”

(which I probably put out of its misery).

She’s nodding, tight-lipped and wide-eyed

as my short, but nimble, fingers flayed out

The Flight of the Bumble Bee”

(the bee slightly tipsy).

Her hand is drawn up to her neck

during Autumn Leaves

(which I probably pruned the life out of).

Any Rimsky-Korsakov or Tchaikovsky

sent her into glazed-over Buddhahood.

Dear Mrs. Christiansen, who recognized

another hopeless romantic when she saw one,

who had the good sense to know

I’d never make it to virtuoso. Because of her,

I have loved the piano ever since,

no matter how unmagnificent the solos to my cat might be.

In those years before our bodies blistered out of control —

hers with cancer that turned her skin to beeswax,

mine ajar with hormones and pheromones so potent

I lost my taste for music and went fortissimo for boys —

we enjoyed each other’s company,

bedazzled, drawn toward a startling luminescence.

Poem by Christine Swanberg, published in Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity, Wind Publications, Nicolas, Ky. Also published in PoetsWest.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet. She received the Lawrence E. Gloyd Community Impact Award at the 2012 Rockford Area Arts Council State of the Arts Awards.

From the April 23-29, 2014, issue

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