Sandra McPherson

Learning to Play It Again
June 24, 2020 McPherson Sandra

Learning to Play It Again


While my daughter was learning Clementi —
A creek cascading outside through ferns,


A dell maybe, plenty
Of wet-winged chill-tolerant birds,


Off-fifths and sevenths in my play-it-by-ear ear,
As her teacher (Juilliard, ski patrol)


Exemplified a passage, and then she imitated . . .
I paid a twenty


For the hour.  Mt. Hood rose in his mind — the grand up there,
The summit filling each frame of the lodge window —


FDR, WPA, the spirits of construction workers in their tent city,
All bent in conscious energies;


For the concert in his future —
It would be Liszt, stentorian fingers


A kid could only hope to learn, or get closer to, skilled
At almost tripping it bright, lucent,


While I was distracted, in a Finn phase, carrying around a volume by Pentti
Saarikoski, who feels light as an eyelash


And will be lost like one; and Paavo Haavikko’s see-
Through windshield jacket (“this breath has grown trees”);


Much that was foreign, or far off but not alien,
The refrain that won’t stay distant, or coolishly distanced,


Even though going to rub mail in his thumbs, one poet Ploiesti
Veteran stationed where they say, as “nothing” — niente,


For that’s what his postmistress said
Enough to become a lovely, lonely repeton —


Niente per voi
Today, daily — he used it


To add a half-line of music to the deprivation to each quatrain.
My prodigy’s guide, more gentle than virtuosic, sipped jet-black coffee;


I kept track: his mentee knowing, growing better, inching
If not leapfrogging, more nuanced,


Earning the right not to give up on,
To hold onto, even lay into, that peckish seesaw sonata


By Clementi.  That liquid-I-wish, melting-if-only
Passage we followed


However, or wherever, it (word I place my mistrust in;
Misplace my trust in) flowed.

Sandra McPherson’s 21st book, Quicksilver, Cougars, and Quartz, is forthcoming in 2018 from Salmon Poetry Press. She is retired from teaching 23 years at the University of California at Davis and 4 years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Among her earlier collections, 5 were published by by Ecco, 3 by Wesleyan, and 2 by Illinois.