Every time I play this piece,
memories merge with the stringed voices
and follow the music like brain waves.
It’s 1984. Ruth is afraid to touch
me; I’m hesitant to touch the keys.
Both of us sit stiff as ivory.
Her sleeplessness reflects in the ivory
of her face as she searches for a piece
to begin my lesson. “Play the Bach, the key
of G minor.” I note how drawn her voice.
The piano feels alien to my touch,
but she dismisses my errors with a wave.
I start again and let the opening phrases wave
me beneath the surface of the ivory.
The notes of the first two measures almost touch
in the descending arpeggio that begins the piece
until proximity repels them, and the third voice
enters to emphasize the minor key.
I recall Bernice rushing with the key
to the practice room. I offered a weak wave
but no greeting. Jealousy stifled my voice.
She hurried to her lonely cage of ivory,
where I assumed she found her daily peace
crafting art from her perfect touches.
The piano sang with precision beneath her touch,
but profound talent was not friendship’s key,
friendship that might have kept her from the precipice.
The lament in her music never wavered,
and she announced to her only companion, the ivory,
her plan to reduce the Sinfonia by one voice.
The soprano’s song twines around my voicebox
with the picture of her feet not touching
the ground while her fingers fade to ivory.
The dignified cry of the tenor descends the keyboard
like the steady retreat of ocean waves,
and I wonder where Ruth will find peace.
When I finish the piece, I know it has given voice
to sorrow and waves of guilt. Ruth touches
my hand on the keys of glistening ivory.
Michelle DeRose teaches creative writing and African-American, Irish, and world literature at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her most recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Sparks of Calliope, Dunes Review, Making Waves, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Healing Muse.