War Ballad By Stanley Moss

(after the Russian)

The piano has crawled into the quarry. Hauled   
In last night for firewood, sprawled
With frozen barrels, crates and sticks,
The piano is waiting for the axe.

Legless, a black box, still polished;   
It lies on its belly like a lizard,   
Droning, heaving, hardly fashioned   
For the quarry’s primordial art.

Blood red: his frozen fingers cleft,
Two on the right hand, five on the left,
He goes down on his knees to reach the keyboard,   
To strike the lizard’s chord.

Seven fingers pick out rhymes and rhythm,   
The frozen skin, steaming, peels off them,   
As from a boiled potato. Their schemes,
Their beauty, ivory and anthracite,
Flicker and flash like the great Northern Lights.

Everything played before is a great lie.   
The reflections of flaming chandeliers—
Deceit, the white columns, the grand tiers   
In warm concert halls—wild lies.

But the steel of the piano howls in me,   
I lie in the quarry and I am deft
As the lizard. I accept the gift.
I’ll be a song for Russia, I’ll be
an étude, warmth and bread for everybody.
Stanley Moss, “War Ballad” from A History of Color: New and Collected Poems. Reprinted with the permission of Seven Stories Press, www.sevenstories.com.

Source: A History of Color: New and Collected Poems (Seven Stories Press, 2003)

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