Well, You Needn’t
BY william matthews
Rather than hold his hands properly
arched off the keys, like cats
with their backs up,
Monk, playing block chords,
hit the keys with his fingertips well
above his wrists,
shoulders up, wrists down, scarce
room for the pencil, ground
freshly to a point,
piano teachers love to poke
into the palms of junior
pianists with lazy hands.
What easy villains these robotic
dullards are in their floral-
print teaching dresses
(can those mauve blurs be
peonies?). The teachers’ plucky,
make-do wardrobes suggest, like the wan
bloom of dust the couch exhaled
when I scrunched down to wait
for Mrs. Oxley, just how we value
them. She’d launch my predecessor
home and drink some lemonade,
then free me from the couch.
The wisdom in Rocky Mount,
North Carolina, where Monk grew up,
is that those names, Thelonious
Sphere, came later, but nobody’s
sure: he made his escape
by turning himself into a genius
in broad daylight while nobody
watched. Just a weird little black
kid one day and next thing anybody
knew he was inexplicable
and gone. We don’t give lessons
in that. In fact it’s to stave off
such desertions that we pay
for lessons. It works for a while.
Think of all the time we spend
thinking about our kids.
It’s Mrs. Oxley, the frump
with a metronome, and Mr. Mote,
the bad teacher and secret weeper,
we might think on, and everyone
we pay to tend our young, opaque
and truculent and terrified,
not yet ready to replace us,
or escape us, if that be the work.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Well You Needn't by Thelonious Monk
BY david tucker
Class is over, the teacher
and the pianist gone,
but one dancer
in a pale blue
to practice alone without music,
turning grand jetes
through the haze of late afternoon.
Her eyes are focused
on the balancing point
no one else sees
as she spins in this quiet
made of mirrors and light—
a blue rose on a nail—
then stops and lifts
her arms in an oval pause
and leans out
a little more, a little more,
there, in slow motion
upon the air.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Slow Waltz (from IMPRESSIONS) by Clarice Assad
A Day At The Races
BY robert vandermolen
When you wake up after twelve hours
The stove is cold, there's ice in the water bucket
— clouds outside and snow, the noise of a crow,
The only sound; until your wife cries
From an upper bunk, Honey, I'd like some coffee.
Luther chuckles. I nod, excuse myself for the men's room
Next to me stretches a teacher
Who once warned me not to get married
Too early. Elderly now, but having done well
In real estate as a second career. He says
Well, well, as if he can't recall my name.
But buys me a drink and talks of his wayward
Daughter. When he mentions her married last name
I tell him I have met her, but leave off at that . . .
He squints like a badger. In my wife's family, he resumes,
After a jostling by a drunken salesman, there's a
Sort of stupid gene that runs through the whole outfit,
Being half Finnish, half Dutch — or maybe something
Cancelled something . . . I notice a protuberance, a small growth
At the edge of his eye, hanging like a broken thread
I always thought, I say, your daughter had a charming
Personality. He hunches his shoulders. Waking to dread,
The debts of dread — but I couldn't help him.
Neither did I want to. On the way out
I spot my first wife chatting with a small-time gangster —
She flutters a wave my way, a Victorian flutter
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Appalachian Waltz by Mark O'Connor
BY bill dodds
The school bell rings, we go inside,
Our teacher isn’t there.
“Maybe she’s sick!” her pet cries out.
Yeah, right. As if I’d care.
I have a D in Language Arts,
My grade in math’s the same.
And now my teacher might be sick.
Could be I’m part to blame.
She doesn’t like me, that’s a fact,
I wouldn’t tell a lie.
She says stuff like: “You’re very smart,
But you don’t even try.”
I start to laugh—my teacher’s sick!
And boy, I’m feeling fine . . .
When someone knocks the door right in,
And there stands Frankenstein.
She’s six-foot-eight, her dress is black,
She’s wearing combat boots.
I start to gasp, she growls and says,
“I’ll be your substitute.”
The teacher’s pet is whimpering;
She doesn’t stand a chance.
The smart kid stares and points and faints.
The bully wets his pants.
“My name is Mrs. Stein,” she says,
And every student cringes.
She leans the door against the wall,
She’s knocked it off its hinges.
“Now let’s begin. You there! Stand up!”
She looks me in the eye.
I try to move, my legs won’t work.
I know I’m going to die!
In one big step she’s next to me,
And she does more than hover.
She blocks the sun, it’s dark as night,
My classmates run for cover.
“Now get up to the board,” she says.
“I’d like to see some action.
Pick up the chalk, explain to us
Division of a fraction.”
I leap away to save my life,
This time I really try.
I think and think and think and croak,
“Invert and multiply.”
“Correct! She says. I breathe again
And head back for my chair.
“You, FREEZE!” she shouts, and I stop cold.
“And don’t go anywhere.”
This all begins at nine o’clock,
I fight to stay alive.
It seems to last a million years—
The clock says nine-o-five.
That’s just three hundred seconds,
And then my turn is through.
She points at every one of us—
“Now you. Now, you. Now, you.”
We all get nailed this awful day,
There’s nowhere we can hide.
The lunch bell rings, we cannot eat,
We simply crawl outside.
We can’t believe the other kids
Who run and play their games.
Not us, who have big Mrs. Stein—
Our world is not the same.
The bell has tolled, I must go in,
My time on earth is through.
I’ll leave this on the playground—
Here’s what you have to do.
You must listen to your teacher
And pray her health is fine,
Or one day soon you’ll hear the words:
“My name is Mrs. Stein.”
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: School's Out by Alice Cooper
BY a. e. stallings
One was fire red,
Hand carved and new—
The local maker pried the wood
From a torn-down church's pew,
The Devil's instrument
Wrenched from the house of God.
It answered merrily and clear
Though my fingering was flawed;
Bright and sharp as a young wine,
They said, but it would mellow,
And that I would grow into it.
The other one was yellow
And nicked down at the chin,
A varnish of Baltic amber,
A one-piece back of tiger maple
And a low, dark timbre.
A century old, they said,
Its sound will never change.
Rich and deep on G and D,
Thin on the upper range,
And how it came from the Old World
Was anybody's guess—
Light as an exile's suitcase,
A belly of emptiness:
That was the one I chose
(Not the one of flame)
And teachers would turn in their practiced hands
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Red Violin by John Corigliano