This poem won Third place in 2-Day Poem Contest 2009

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.