“Piano Lesson,” by Richard Siken

Read by the author.


When I was ten, I had an imaginary friend. He lived on pork and beans and played the viola. People would look at us and hear sad music, turn away. That’s pretty much how it was, what it was like, for most of 1977. A viola is slightly larger than a violin. It makes a deeper sound. The cello and the double-bass: larger and deeper still. All, like Pinocchio, have hollow wooden bodies, though Pinocchio has more strings and is hollow only metaphorically. Guitars have strings. Harps also. If a harp lay down and fell asleep and you bludgeoned its dreams with felted hammers, then you would have a piano. If you were wearing a tuxedo, you would have a grand piano. If you knocked a clock to the floor and left it there, on its back, staring at the ceiling, spinning slowly to its own sad music, then you would have a record player. Or a carrousel, if you had horses, or luggage. A table turns into a barricade, a vase into a broken vase. The lazy Susan becomes the place where the lazy Susan used to be. Pinocchio wants to be a real boy. The real boy wants to be a robot. The dream of becoming. By 1699, although there were no pianos, some composers were already anticipating their arrival. Sheet music from the time shows notes too high or low to play on the harpsichord. By 1837, with some refinement of the pedals, a player could sustain the notes even after their hands had moved away. By the time I was eleven, I stopped being sad and started to be afraid.

This is drawn from “I Do Know Some Things.”

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