Joni Mitchell, Sandra Beasley, and Pianos

When I was 15, my sister had an extra ticket to see Joni Mitchell at the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum.  I didn’t really care about Joni Mitchell then, so I passed.  What a mistake.  I recall later seeing one of her lyrics in a college literature book.  Still, it would take me years of listening to her music to realize what a wonderful writer of words she is.

One of my favorite lyrics of hers comes from the For the Roses song “Ludwig’s Tune (Judgement of the Moon and Stars).”  The last lines of the song address the deaf Ludwig van Beethoven:

Condemned to wires and hammers
Strike every chord that you feel
That broken trees
And elephant ivories

She has her rhyme but so much more.  The image: precise, innovative.  The last lines–“That broken trees/And elephant ivories/Conceal”–connote the natural processes and what happens when nature and man conspire.  It’s a new way of knowing the world.

In Sandra Beasley’s poem, “The Piano Speaks,” I’m given another way of looking at the world.

The Piano Speaks

After Erik Satie

For an hour I forgot my fat self,
my neurotic innards, my addiction to alignment.
For an hour I forgot my fear of rain.
For an hour I was a salamander
shimmying through the kelp in search of shore,
and under his fingers the notes slid loose
from my belly in a long jellyrope of eggs
that took root in the mud. And what
would hatch, I did not know—
a lie. A waltz. An apostle of glass.
For an hour I stood on two legs
and ran. For an hour I panted and galloped.
For an hour I was a maple tree,
and under the summer of his fingers
the notes seeded and winged away
in the clutch of small, elegant helicopters.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2009).


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