The Songs That Make Us

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.



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