“Sinfonia in G Minor” by Michelle DeRose

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.

Two Poems by Michelle DeRose

Syzygy

for Parker

Before your name was known,
I crept down creaking stairs at three
to satisfy our craving for Cheerios.
You spoke with sonar,
squirmed to float your needs,
unformed lips and absent teeth
two fewer tools for symbols
I could misconstrue.

When we were separated, you cried
to speak again in the language of fluid,
to lament the severed syncromesh.
And the sunlight hurt your eyes.

You see beauty I no longer recognize
in the dry leaf latched onto the dog’s tail
deposited in the corner,
and in the copper flashing of a penny
as it skates across the floor.
Only if I squeeze my eyes hard enough
can I still see silver.

Rooted in the inefficiency of words,
I am suspended beyond recollection
of the worlds that merged in me
and spend my life unlearning the perfect language.


Letting Go

One day you drop your mother’s hand,
a sudden chill in sweaty creases,
and cross the street alone. She releases
your bike seat. You jolt and wobble
without the weight. You hang
your school jacket in your sister’s closet.
It’s her room now, anyway.
You bag up slacks with narrow waistlines
for Goodwill, return the office keys
to HR. Life is learning when
to let go, hoping the red
balloon has lofted you to safety
and will fly far beyond
the volley of deflating stones.




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 Dunes Review, Making Waves, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Healing Muse.

Two Poems by Michelle DeRose

Dilemma

Say a cat limps into your yard,
a cat with singed whiskers, a fear
of play. Say your six-year-old
pounces at the chance to love
a smaller creature, builds it forts,
blanket beds, preserves it
the last bits of his favorite dinner,
falls to sleep draped beneath
its paw and awakens early.
You try: post signs, ask around,
check the paper’s lost and found.
He pleads to put the paper down.
You finally do. He names the cat.
Wilks is sleeping on his lap
when you learn your brother’s
friend’s neighbor lost one, gone
when his son held its head too close
to a candle. Really is all
he says. I leave it up to you.


Epic of a Winter Evening

Let the muse be silent! The fire’s lit.
The only song belongs to the log’s hiss.
Cradled in perfection of the fit,
my head rests in this underworld of bliss
where the curve of my cheek slides easily to its place
of neck and shoulder joined above the heart.
I need no armor, desire only to face
you unadorned, no sting of a god’s dart.
I sing of your arms, fated to draw me
deep into this Thursday night of snow
to ponder the night’s only mystery:
the rise and fall of flicker, ash, and glow.
Though fate ordains the adversaries fight,
Hector couples with Andromache tonight.

“Epic of a Winter Evening” first appeared in The Sweet Annie & Sweet Pea Review.




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 Dunes Review, Making Waves, The Journal of Poetry Therapy, and Healing Muse.