In search of story


December 1.20: Coping

Zinnia: thoughts of absent friends


Once upon a long-ago 1968, two life paths — mine and Libby’s — crossed in the highly combustible, hilarious, hormone-laden world of a junior/senior high school. She taught music and I was the new English teacher.

We met in the teachers’ workroom in a haze of mimeograph fumes, and quickly established our mutual love of music.  I was enlisted on the spot as official accompanist for her junior-high musical extravaganzas. I do not forget the moment the curtain went up for the ballroom scene in “Die Fledermaus,” with its aluminum foil chandeliers, and the audience exploded into spontaneous applause.

Or when the 8th-grade Josephine ad libbed her lines to the 7th-grade Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore” rehearsal.

Or the shivering hours in Libby’s basement as she sewed the angel costumes for “Hansel und Gretel.” Her childhood on a North Dakota farm made her impervious to cold and eventually she kept a blanket just for me because she grew tired of hearing my teeth chatter.

Libby and I had the best time in those bachelor days even though she could never convert me to gin or cats. I held to a firm belief in scotch and catlessness.  But, beyond bachelorhood, many were the years of friendship, many the pastries, many the morning coffees, many the long talks.

I would say now that I am dead to Libby but the fact is that for her today I never lived. She is far into dementia. She was lovely, a world traveler, opera buff, master gardener, idealist, a tolerant, inquisitive, lifelong learner, protective of all life. Cat addict.

She still is all those things; she just doesn’t know it.

I salute her today, her 93rd birthday. I will know for both of us.



January 17.20

You are right, dear reader: you have seen this little sighing bird before. In my last post.

He has been with me in a singular way. Allow me to take you back to the late 1940s, when I was in kindergarten and my mother was lobbying the highly-respected (read: tyrannical) piano teacher in our area, who didn’t take students before they could read. I was not consulted.

Mom won. I couldn’t read but I started lessons, and I spent the next several years in tearful plea to be allowed to quit. I hated my lessons and I hated practicing. Mom said I could quit after ten years. I remember the moment because one remembers when one’s blood runs cold.

At that ten-year mark everything changed because I had my first Liszt étude: Gnomenreigen. It was the beginning of my suspicion that Liszt had fifteen fingers. Two years later, my next Liszt étude: Un Sospiro, The Sigh. I played it well. Not brilliantly, but well.

I had two dreams as a pianist: to play the original Rhapsody in Blue and to play La Campanella, The Bells, another Liszt étude. I never accomplished the first. I could only approximate the second. Alas.

But I think about the eloquence of those études. A sigh. The bells. They are there in those magical acrobatics. And I marvel at the transcendent power of a grey image, a D flat, and, yes, a tyrannical piano teacher.


Connections: May 8.18

I don’t know how to play it

wouldn’t know where to begin

and yet it beams out a gravity

much like a rolling pin

or terracotta flowerpot

pruners, or a hoe

piano or organ keyboard,

a scraper for bread dough,

a pad of lined blank paper

a pen, an artist brush

they make my fingers eager

they give me a head rush

with primal primitive instinct

my fingers stretch, reach out

but it’s really my very self

the pull is all about.

Certain things there are

that, silent, speak to me

make my fingers restless

to do, to make, to be.


More thanks to the S.W. Berg Photo Archives.





Connections: March 25.18

Face to the wind

I look ahead

goodbye to the old

now the new instead.

It’s a digital thing

unlike my old grand

a sign of the time

like the gnarl of my hand.

But I admit I’m befuddled

in this alien realm:

am I at a piano

or the Enterprise helm?





Connections: March 19.18


Yesterday I said goodbye

in private chilly wake

empty chairs attending

my lonely little ache.

For over fifty years

in rages and in joys

my ten, its eighty-eight

conspired to make noise.

Responsive, empathetic

not like other things

it lifted up my spirit

and gave my fingers wings.

You cannot understand

unless you’ve parted too

with a beautiful piano

that grew old along with you.




Vagaries: October 11.16


best friend


curse and godsend.

 This clumsy chunk of wood and wire

monument to stubbornness

taught me to be

Queen of Stubborn


patient and impatient.

I had an itch

way deep

that made me touch the keys.

I had to play.

I cannot remember life without a piano

this love-hate relationship that coddled my inwardness

yet insisted the music go outward

so how can I think of life without it ?

No inanimate object, this,

but a being with breath


a forgiving affection for me.

Is it disappointed?

I was never great

but I was good.

More, I entered in to a human thing

the thing with music



we all itch.

Is it



Is it time to send this

wooden person

to the heap of my past

with dolls

and love letters?


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Connections: March 19


used to be

the first

forever imbedded

eared, eyed, and headed

for better or for worst.

The alpha note


awaking addiction

family friction

in eventual Czernian bloat.

Oh, the hours misspent

a perpetual Lent

da capo ad nauseam

no break or pauseam

my youth distorted and bent.

Why wasn’t I Rubenstein?

Why only me?

What sadistic muse

designed this ruse

this siren-song’d middle C?


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Old friends

Ann and I go way back.

We met in kindergarten. That was 1948. We went on to grade school together. Same high school, same college, same sorority. We rode our bikes in the summers, grade school through college, long after our peers took to cars. We banged out duets on each other’s pianos. My mother tripped over her at our house and her mother tripped over me at their house. Sometimes it was a toss-up as to which house was whose.

We never ran out of talk. That is still true: we email all the time, and with telepathic understanding. When she writes “dum-dee-dum-dum,” I hear the Dragnet theme. “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” needs no exegesis, Officer Krupke no footnote, tarantulas in bananas no clarification. When I write “Back to you, Chet,” she calls me David. If I mention frocks and chums, she will write of Ned Nickerson, and, when she grouses about how people don’t know nominative case from old underwear, I commiserate and we both blame Sister Mary Clare, our sixth-grade teacher, whose obsession with nominative case makes us both crazed today when we hear “between you and I.”

In college, people exclaimed at how much we looked alike. Nope. We never looked anything alike, which was my loss, but we’d rubbed off on each other. We didn’t look alike; we WERE alike.

We are grandmas now and will be 72 soon. We met when we were five. So that means we’ve been friends for…ummm…did I mention she tutored me through math?

Recently she emailed that it seemed like yesterday when she went apoplectic laughing at my high school freshman picture. How sweetly sentimental she can be.

From Nancy Drew to the Internet. Girls to grandmas. Old friends.


Duly Noted

He warned me. The piano tuner made it clear that the age of the strings and the length of time since the last tuning boded ill. As with all things, age and neglect are not the best of all possible combinations. But still when the sproyoyoying came, it hurt. An F# was felled, broken and limp among its taut brethren in the chest of the baby grand.

I regarded it sadly and was reminded of a Middle C I once knew. I was in high school, trying to eke Beethoven out of my mother’s old upright Kimball, the stalwart that had seen two generations through piano lessons. More and more it balked. I wanted music but it gave me mere sound. I was working at the Sonata Pathetique, getting nowhere. The first lines always seemed to me to be about something ominous and something weary; there was a controlled threat and a controlled grief in those lines but I could never capture them with my fingers. And then there was no more control and the music tore loose — or was supposed to, I thought. The wild ride in the next section hinged on the most important Middle C I’d ever met. My right hand begged the piano for that while my left hand negotiated with two lower Cs. Three octaves of Cs and me. There was nothing else in the cosmos.

The lower Cs rumbled with some conviction but Middle C gave me nothing. I tried it again. And again. Beethoven was NOT in there. Once more with more force, no, with outright anger. And there it was: lying before me, on the ledge just behind the music, the hammer for Middle C. It had given its all. I felt like a murderer. I sat there, guilt- and angst-ridden, staring at it, with its deeply lined head and long broken leg; Middle C was no more. With it had gone all hope of coaxing (or beating) Beethoven out of that old piano.

Did I learn that anger doesn’t make music? Not at all. I did learn that pianos can get even.