When the piano arrived, suddenly
what had been simply our front room
became the parlour. The old Hamilton
gave my mother a sense of elegance missing
from her hard-scrabble pre-piano life.
She carried in her mind a kind of ruler, each mark
a gradation of class, white trash at the bottom,
a sorry lot stuck in a genetic quagmire.
The piano raised us from our sink of working class
almost to gentry, a step which required new clothes,
white gloves and spectator pumps,
bought at W.T. Grant’s and laid away
in a tissue-lined drawer with great ceremony,
never worn. New dresses, shirtwaists of the sort
she imagined a doctor’s wife might wear,
she had to improvise, her Singer clacking away
on Saturday afternoons, dial set to WLS and Milton Cross,
the Philco’s tubes glowing kumquat yellow
in the dim light of the hallway. Looking back
it seems to me that was when the rot set in,
my mother’s desire to climb into the middle class
a noxious effervescent gas emanating from the piano,
a piano only I could play, a barefoot snot-nosed child
playing Für Elise, a freak, like a pig in church.