NOTES ON PIANO MAKER

Walking through the woods one day in Bedford, edified by the moldering smell of endless raw material available, not only for forest growth and animal life, but for my own entertainment, I thought of Camus’ statement in L’Etranger that a day in the world was enough for a life of memory in jail. Even my own small patch of trees would do for a lifetime. This made me feel somewhat befriended in the woods, even if they did eventually give me Lyme disease and drive me to Nepal. But at the time I thought that no long hilltop views were necessary for a panorama: one small enclosed valley discloses the length and distance of a region.

We all turn the odd leaf or branch to use, to write a poem, to make a fire; the wood points us sometimes in lucid directions. Buckminster Fuller told the critic Hugh Kenner that fire is simply soaked-up sunlight unwinding from a log. In the same way, we unearth pianos from a cord of wood, or sculptures from stones, the way we often derive our own identity as Americans from the land, the way the mythic giants drew their strength from touching earth, as any mountaineer will understand. The poem I wrote was however too bald, and so I thought I would thicken it up.

The analogy of poet and piano maker came out of the woodwork; it was there already. Sound board, key bed, chord and cord, ebony dies, key ivories, maple sounding-board crowns, and glue here mix with human limbs, fingers, bed and board, growth and sound, to deepen the collusion of tree body and human body, piano wood and forest wood, body shape and piano shape, piano maker, poem maker, so that the hands of both types of creator are heard together on the bark of the keyboard and the keyboard of the bark.

Surds are used in the logarithmic calculations of a well-tempered tuning system in a piano, suggesting a certain order behind the chaos of sound. The poem is therefore an ordered sonnet but, when read, the more conversational mid-rhymes and meters dominate the visual classicism of the shape, as a person or a pianist tries to rise beyond even the most complex structures in nature or in music.