Twenty-eight Meditations On Finding A Street Piano
Our young lives are changed by music and
our small fingers struggle.
A piano turns up on a building site in Paris. Broken strings crash,
the piano falls down drunk, it chuckles and hammers its strings.
When I am weary, I play Haydn.
Do not ask how to play—go and find a proper teacher. Do
violence, rip out the keys if you can’t get it right. Fold
your anger between the pages of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata.
Two dark tractors pass in a field, one is driven by a man called
Chopin, the other by Rachmaninov. The chances of this
happening are ridiculous.
A pale light reflects off brass pedals, burnished by years of use.
There is sawdust beneath the piano. If you listen closely, you can
hear the woodworm boring away, finding their resonant frequency.
On top of the piano, a lovely piece of slate fashioned into an ashtray,
but nobody’s allowed to smoke any more. It rattles when Topper
plays the Maple Leaf Rag. He calls it the Maple Teeth. We don’t
correct him, he has a temper.
There’s a young girl standing twenty yards from the piano
on Paddington station, yearning. She’ll never move any closer.
The Prophet Bird sings out, late into the soft October night.
We leave the performance early, we don’t want to
hear the Scriabin. We are not strong enough.
There’s a distant tapping on the road, the men are working,
they have their sign up. We remember how we used to joke
about umbrellas. The old piano had brackets for candles.
Middle C is opposite the keyhole, but I have mislaid the key.
An avenue, dark and nameless, curtains drawn. Someone’s
playing scales, C sharp minor, badly. Their playing is uneven,
the hands do not match, they should stop and do something else—
climb a mountain and pray to the gods of high places that they
don’t pick one where someone has left a piano.
We dare not go near the piano floor in Harrods. That place
means death. It is peopled by ghosts. It no longer exists.
The entrance is blocked by brambles.
Late in the summer the strange horses came, black-plumed,
but instead of a coffin, Mozart’s piano, dressed in black crepe.
I told my son about my father, how he played me to sleep
with Schubert and Brahms, and now this is something
my son does for me.
When the water runs into the bath, if you listen carefully,
you can hear pianos running through the pipes.
You could build bridges or be a brain surgeon or play
Beethoven. All are skilled jobs. There’s only one you
can still do when you’re ninety-four.
Reading music by candlelight makes it sound sweeter.
And if a man should build a piano out of a quarter ton of
Lego, and if the strings should be wound of fishing line,
ay, what then?
The sound of cars passing in the wet, the swish-swish of their
tyres, the soaking wet street piano, the boys laughing, trying
to play Metallica.
Why doesn’t he phone? Or am I playing too loudly.
Has he phoned, and I didn’t hear?
In the not-too-distant future, I will play in seven flats and the
sonorities will be glorious, and you will fall in love with me.
This is a stupid way to die, crushed by a piano falling out
of a Glasgow tenement window in a comedy short.
The piano is under an awning now, the people are talking
about rain, the piano is sulking.
Someone puts a vase of peonies on the piano
in memory of a suicide.
I sit down to play Chopin, the Opus 25 Etudes.
By the time I finish we are married
and have ten children.
Previously published in 'The Lake', 2015; and 'How to Win at King's Cross', erbacce press, 2018