UNTIL THE PIANO CAN NO LONGER
HOLD ITS TUNE
Château Thierry, Fall 1940 German Invasion of France
We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano,
my father announced over breakfast, the sausage squared,
wine thinned by water, biscuits sharp as a fingernail.
We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano, he repeated.
But we will run out of food, my mother said, the wine on her lips
like the stains we would suddenly find on our skins,
in our milk.
How we went from daily baths
the water oily from ash, bombs, and the gauze of gasoline
from the Luftwaffe raids
that left knotted smoke in the tangles above our town.
Every morning and every evening
my father played his favorite waltz
while our neighbors
and relatives vanished in their carts,
walking with the wrack and wreck of their belongings,
fever hanging on their bones like bloody moss.
Not even when the shelves began to shudder.
Not even when we were alone
of raiding basements, wine cellars,
the weekly runs to the far gardens in the soon countryside.
We will stay until I can no longer tune the piano
he would sometime mutter at breakfast or at lunch
spreading butter over fried flour.
Not even when the neighboring village burned in the dusk
or the Panzers crawled in,
their insect roar splintering the very sunlight
about our block.
And it was too late,
although my mother had packed.
Your father has lost his mind with grief, she said, your sister,
my mother, your aunt and uncle.
My sister and I, with our mother dear
left our father with his tools, his bottles of wine, and the his piano
that still managed to hold its music even as the earth gave way
to engine, to gunpowder.
But he didn’t stay.
He met us in the shredded wood.
He carried no food, no blankets, no clothes
only his tuning tools, like walrus teeth in his broken hands.
fiction poetry "fact" photography