Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Objectivity, Shmobjectivity.

I'm sick. I have a nasty sore throat, runny nose, and I injured my back a few days ago, so I can't really turn my head right or left. The end table is decorated with used tissues, a half-empty cup of tea, water, meds, and a couple of books. Every so often, I lie down to relieve the nausea. I am the definition of pathetic in pajamas.

So I spent some time reading the poetry in the new issue of The Antioch Review. I was thinking things like, "Nice word choice." "Hmm, interesting rhyme scheme." "Another sestina. Are sestinas in now, or something?" and, "I guess all the poems have to fit on one page or you're not allowed in." (Although exactly one uses up two pages.)

And then, BAM, a massive, literary anvil fell on my head in the form of the last poem, "Mother at the Piano," by Fredrick Zydek. I am not even going to pretend to be objective about this poem. Maybe in a week I could do a nice, neat analysis, but right now I'm still reeling. Let's take a look at it, then I'll tell you why.

Mother at the Piano

She didn't play often
and she didn't play well.
Her right hand could read
everything in treble clef

except chords, rest signs,
quarter notes, and tempo.
Her left hand was used
like a drum beating out

a waltz where a rumba
or fox-trot should be.
But she could pound out
a tune or two. If no one

was looking, melody
would flood the house
like relatives on a Sunday
afternoon. I would hide

in my room and listen.
She always sang off-key.
It didn't matter. When
Mother made music we

knew two things. She
was glad about something,
and for a little while
nothing needed dusting.

Fredrick Zydek

Holy crap. Okay. My mother was an obsessive cleaner, and when we heard that vacuum start, we (my sister, brother and I) would run to our rooms. When cleaning started, yelling started. She was a very unhappy person anyway, but the miserable factor increased exponentially during cleaning. Things would get slammed, knocked around, bumped by the vacuum, and glared at. Each kid would get called down for some cleaning infraction. My brother would get a cloth shoved in his hand and yelled at for not "seeing that dust" on the coffee table. My sister would be down on her hands and knees searching through shag for little fragments of anything, because my mother blamed her for the hairpin that had caught in the vacuum. And me. Best not to talk about me.

And, my mother played a bit of piano. I started playing when I was eight, and picked it up so quickly that she stopped playing altogether. Only--on rare ocassions--some urge would take her and she would play a little tune, perhaps even singing along, weakly, and off-key. You bet we hid. But we listened, glad to have her attention on something not us, waiting for the last note, knowing that the brief silence that followed was only a prelude to the cleaning and yelling.

Holy crap. I guess that's why we read poetry, though, isn't it. I guess. Don't ask me now. Maybe later when I'm less sick and less freaked out.


Danny said...

Oh dear Amy, please get well soon. I know how it is to be bedridden, I'm still recuperating too.

The poem reminds me of my mother. She didn't play any instrument but she can sing. I think, my other's song, as I remmber it when i was a kid, is the most beautiful song in the world even if she sings out if tune, and it still echoes within...

The piano - I don't really underwent formal training in music but I can play a handful of instrument.

Everytime I would visit my French cousin in-law's house, I would play the piano and he would listen intently and then ask me what was the title of the piece. I have always a ready title for each piece. Oblivious to him, I just played the piece impromptu so that when he asked me to play it again, I couldn't repeat the same music.

Hope you'll recover soon, take care.



garnet david said...

Hope you feel better soon, Amy.

Wow, you had quite an upbringing. I can see why that poem blew you away. What an eerie resemblance.

Zoe said...

we all have a poem like that... that seems written for us. in my case its a really corny song that I shall not mention the name by fear of too much laughter LOL.

Anonymous said...

Hope you're feeling better, Amy.
I guess that is why we read poetry; to get some kind of grasp on our experiences. I wonder if objectivity is even possible...

MB said...

Hi Amy, I hope you are feeling better! Being sick is miserable stuff.

I had a very different response to this poem from yours, because I have fond memories of my mother playing. She actually played well, though not perfectly — I remember my amazement at her frustration with herself, thinking how I'd love to play as well as she did. My mother was not an obsessive cleaner, but she did require us to participate in maintaining the house, so that sense of "she's playing=escape" is there for me. But stronger is the sense of joy because she was happy in those moments (except for the mistakes); she wasn't always happy.

This reminded me of a more bleakly nostalgic poem by D.H. Lawrence about a piano-mother memory.

I do hope you are on the mend.

Josse said...

Hi Amy
Hope that flu bug has left the system!! I don't have a piano poem but when i was little I used to imagine being a famous violinist when i was big. Unfortunately I didn't have the talent. It's funny like that with the arts - some of it's about talent and a large part of it is being in a space where you can really sore with what it is that you love :-)

Anonymous said...

Dear Amy,

I hope you're already well, I'm worried about you my dear friend. I will be leaving soon and I am going to miss your blog and others, but I'll come back...

My best regards,

Amy said...

Hello everyone,

Thank you all for the kind get-well wishes. I hope to be back on my feet soon and to be visiting your blogs in the very near future!


silvermoon said...

I feel for you being jolted like that especially while sick and for a woman who sounds related to my mother. My mother is a strange bird.....enough said.

leslee said...

I don't relate to the piano so much as your mother! My mom was also a cleaning freak, though it mainly came out when company was coming. It was always misery and high anxiety and thrashing around when company was coming. And it continued. I remember one time when I was in my 30's, and feeling rather bad about being single, she was cleaning my kitchen after dinner. She said, cleaning rag in hand, "no wonder you don't have a husband."

Amy said...


Yikes, that does sound familiar. What a thing to say. I wonder if it's a generational thing--that whole "catching a husband through wifely skills" mentality.

leslee said...

Yah, could be generational. Although her "wifely skills" didn't especially extend to cooking! Mostly I think it was just her neurosis. (BTW, I keep finding writers and poets online who've had problematic relationships with their mothers - at least it's a good way to channel that stuff!)

sigmund fraud said...

This was a good poem. I enjoyed reading it. Thanx for posting it.