The Songs That Make Us by Nancy Schatz Alton
When I play Romeo & Juliet on the piano I’m transported back to high school
how I played out my grief again & again (slowly, far from well) as my mother listened.
When I got stuck (often) she called out, keep going!
She knew I played to move myself forward, unstick the muck that stuck my shoes to the past.
I’ve never been a good pianist, rhythm doesn’t come easily to my fingertips.
I prefer the computer keyboard, how I learned to type on my own
that summer after my senior year, from a book, alone in my bedroom.
Still, I still play on the nights I need to push myself into the old rhythms I learned long ago.
Baby Elephant Walk, The Love Song of Romeo & Juliet,
the notes still slow, my rhythm still off, the sound still sweet
bringing me back to that grief I could not lose, how different I felt
bogged down by fear of my own death after watching a friend die.
They say we are forever correcting our oldest hurt; this cliché rings true.
My best friend says this is why people use clichés: they’re true.
I imprint my cliché upon my brain: I hold kids close and say again and again:
I see you, life sucks, it’s hard & we must dance. Especially if we have no rhythm.
I dance with my youngest daughter now. She’s a good dancer. I play the piano slowly still.
I call my mother and play for her. I watch her on the video call, her eyes closed.
I imagined she’s trapped inside the dream of us: me playing, her urging me on
her prayer always & now the same as mine: live on & thrive, I’ve got you, please, live on.