Nebraska Center for Writers

by Nancy McCleery

Told me I was nuts to give up beating out
my woes on the piano to take up with words
no one heard. Just slipping them in this place
out that envelope. And besides, she said,
you never sing or even hum anymore and you
don't talk to me much at lunch
but you sure are a good listener
and if I had to have a sister I'd choose you
losers are the talkers and takers and I'm talkin'
and takin' you to lunch today myy treat
but if I thought I could play even chopsticks
I wouldn't be sittin' here I'd be home

                And I'll tell you, reader,
as I didn't tell her, how it was for me
tracing the prints my grandmother left
on the keyboard, how it was both making
and hearing the rise and fall of cadences,
going over and over those wordless entreaties,
resolutions, the tierce de Picardies, nocturnes.
Nice. It was nice. No words. Purity.

And the listening continues here in the blue
light of dusk, in the sound of a pen
scratching on paper, of paper sliding
against paper like those illicit flirtations
where more goes on despite AIDS than the woman
and the man will admit, how reaching for his glass
he brushes the hair on my arms and the hair
stands up all over my body. His touch like the word
most loved: "home" — carrying it everywhere
and with an appetite for whatever occurs to me,

writing it true as though it were possible,
as though one could answer where the music goes,
where the embrace goes, when it is finally over.

Reprinted with permission
from Girl Talk
Copyright © 2002
by Nancy McCleery
Backwaters Press

Nebraska Center for Writers

by Nancy McCleery

Told me I could develop my writing by playing
the piano again. Told me: Music, the purest
of all art forms, quoting we knew not who

I was thinking not purity but heart
speaking to heart as in Beethoven
as in the Blues, Thelonious Monk.

You had a good start, she blurted out,

then you moved down a rung or two
to slippery words gave up the piano.

I asked, Perhaps mantras — wouldn't that be

more pure? And what about love poems.
Told her the love poem may be talking
only to itself. Maybe the same
for all poetry, for the music of it.

Then she spouted how's about playin'

this upright just a bit of Mozart Bach
try playin' piano again 'n then
just lay the music out there in poems
don't try to mean somethin' just present it
the way music 'n my sketches do
that's purity the reader finds the meaning.

Told her you really tick me off when you harp

on music and lecture me on aesthetics. Besides, we don't see things as they are;

we see things the way we are. So do you

prefer Dame Edith Sitwell's "Facade?"

It was no use debating, trying to convince her I wouldn't play her piano — a waste of words. I began studying another of her AIDS quilt panels. She was stenciling children's names on it, the many names.

Reprinted with permission
from Girl Talk
Copyright © 2002
by Nancy McCleery
Backwaters Press

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