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Like Elephants on Marshmallows

He swore he’d make an artist of me –
me, waiting by the door of his third-floor studio,
not daring to knock until I heard a cadence.
Finally the door swung open, dim room
with its steam machine, hedge of empty coffee cups,
twin Steinways – the one by the window crowded
with scores, textbooks, and Tuesdays with Morrie;
the other some weird George Crumb masterpiece,
vast pages black with scrawled commands
showing which notes to play thunderously,
which meekly, when to whisper mystic numerals
into the guts of the piano, strings jammed tight
with screws, bolts, water glasses, bits of wood.
P is for pretty loud, he joked, sparse eyebrows
dancing as he tapped out fingerings
on a corduroyed knee. Pictures of famous pianists,
his wife and daughter, Marilyn Monroe
stared across the piano’s sleek black top
while I tried to count the first Bulgarian Dance:
one-two-three-four-one-two-one-two-three,
numbers on my lips long after I knew the notes
by heart.  He lifted my arm and dropped it
to show the mechanism, strength flowing
unbroken from my shoulder to my wrist,
then gentle fingers. Like elephants stepping
on marshmallows. I tried not to look past him
out the window, the treetops’ misty green
lining Tappan Square. This hippie school,
built on a swamp by missionary founders
so everyone keeps catching the same cold
their whole first winter here. I stifled sneezes
and listened as he walked me to the door:
You could be the happiest person in the world,
he reminded me, but what good is that
if you don’t know how to listen to your elbow?

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