Curbside Splendor in Chicago makes lovely books – they look good and what’s inside is even better. At AWP this year, I picked up Franki Elliot’s collection Piano Rats. These poems are each their own small universe, populated with people and places that we all seem to know, yet are at the same time completely unique. The title poem in the collection is one of my favorites:
Linguists have pointed out that the Hopi have no word, no
phonetic sound, no grammatical form whatsoever for what
we call Time.
And he told me rats live in the piano. I can’t think of
anything sadder than rats living in a piano.
And my grandfather, he used to garden, play drums,
smoke cigars, but now he can barely open a letter.
He sits quietly, hearing lost, so we can never be sure
what he’s really thinking.
And that violinist on the steps of the art museum said that
this all goes back to Constantine and the gypsies, they each
had one page of the bible that they hid in their chests.
And the other day a woman called and said, “I have to
cancel my appointment. My husband, he has cancer.”
And the Bubonic Plague, oddly enough, started with rodents,
and fleas. Something so small (something hidden in a rotting
piano) and suddenly, you’ve got 75 million people dead.
And every morning in the shower I say to myself, everything
is going to work out. It is because it has to.
I’m a sucker for poems that make leaps I can follow, and a double sucker for poems that can do this with attention to detail. The leap from the call about cancer to the line “something so small (something hidden in a rotting/piano)” is heartbreaking. The poem, filled with the quirks and conspiracies of people who populate the speaker’s life, ends with an unexpected affirmation. Despite all of the differences, the sadnesses, the failures, and the conflicts, there is the morning shower. There is the faith that everything will work out. And isn’t that all most of us have?
If you want to write:
1. Choose a small living thing and place it inside a musical instrument. See where it goes.
2. Choose two professions, a family member, and a person of indeterminate relationship (as in the linguist, the violinist, the grandfather, and the woman) and try to link things they told you.