I waited a long time for my first piano.
While I waited, at six, I played “Pickin’ Up Pawpaws” and “Mares Eat Oats”
On the unyielding surface of a glazed enamel kitchen table,
My voice moving the notes around in the right place.
I waited for my first piano at eight, playing the shoebox keyboard I had drawn,
Its octaves taped with Daddy’s silver duct tape.
I waited for my own piano at eleven and played the real one at school,
Miss Rhem popping my knuckles when I made mistakes.
While I waited, I learned new songs from the radio and
Walked them down the road to Aunt ’Cile’s house.
(Aunt ’Cile wasn’t my aunt but she had a piano.)
“Play this song for me to sing, Aunt ’Cile.”
“Honey, I don’t know that song,” she said.
“Listen, Aunt ’Cile, I’ll teach it to you.”
While she learned it, I sang it.
My piano came at Christmas when I was thirteen,
A rebuilt, mahogany upright with a mirror,
Paid for, like Daddy paid the doctor when I was born,
With shad sales.
I played that piano hard
And sang my dreams through the open windows.
All my music ran across the road to Rodger’s house,
Up the road to Papa’s house, and
He’d come asking me to play his favorites.
“The Ninety and Nine” and “Onward Christian Soldiers”
Marched, as I did, to the rhythm in those ivory keys.
Thwarted dreams and wishes wafted compliantly into song at that piano.
Seven children and several grands have played our dreams out sitting on that bench.
Now the piano waits for family dinners and holidays
And thirty-three people to sing “Amazing Grace.”