I was looking for a good housework poem when I came across this which spoke to me as Colin (my own personal jazz pianist) was at piano contests last week. A superior rating there was certainly worth six months of "Majestic Mountain" every day, but it was touch and go for a while.
And let me just say, Colin's piano teacher does not favor floral print dresses.
Well, You Needn't
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.
William Matthews, “Well, You Needn’t” from Time and Money: New Poems. Copyright © 1995 by William Matthews. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.