Piano Poems

by Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad

Curdled Chopin

Freshly dehusked fromChopin sheet music
plaster of paris, 
my right hand savours 
the wash of sun 
after eight constricted weeks. 

Gnarled phalanges ache 
as healed hairline fractures 
feel the pull of 
new links knitted within 
the matrices of my bones.

My good hand booms a string
of broken chords, a sprinkling 
of ebony tones, 
waiting in anticipation 
as my twig of a right hand 
gingerly feels the cold keys 
for the first time in months.

A timid staccato, then 
Rubato—my fingers tango 
to a slow but steady start.
Wasted muscles groan,
smudged notes
rise and fall.
It’s a cacophony 
of curdled Chopin 
that fills the living room.



Muscle Memory 

Years later, when I book
a curbside collection
for the broken oven, 
the radiators and fly screens
piled in the garage, I find 
the cardboard box with 
the sheaf of piano scores 
she had wanted me to inherit. 

Her three sons had shunned 
their mother’s instrument 
and even though there were 
prodigies aplenty who 
made her proud, she chose me
with my unlikely background,
with no musicality 
in my family tree, 
the student who laboured over 
all performance pieces,
to receive her dearest possession.

I can’t bear to look at this 
relic from my past when I 
can barely play a shred 
of this sublime music now.
They might as well be 
peppercorns, I scoff—
these semiquavers 
spattered in clumps across 
the linen-grey sheets.
I grudgingly trace the 
impossible highways 
of arpeggios, the gullies 
of diminuendos
with an ache
metastasizing in my heart. 

But I want to believe 
I can lift them again the way 
she used to, give them effortless 
flight, so I take the box 
inside, and attempt to
clean the cobwebs off 
both paper and mind 
as the preludes and fugues 
rustle at me from within 
her treasured
Well-Tempered Clavier.

And I tease the keys, starting 
and stopping, decoding
one bar at a time
like stringing together 
a clump of elusive beads and 
it isn’t long before 
I’m caught in flashbacks 
of a self, long withered— 
the spotlight crowning my waves, 
back arched,
fingers curled—




A friend asks for advice on which piano to buy

for his teen who has suddenly retreated
into a shell, and I promptly scan 
listings for second-hands and promise
to make phone calls. He hopes that 
along with the therapy and medication, 
music will restore his child, and
the piano lessons he has enrolled 
her in will lead her out
of the fog. I tell him it’s 
a great idea.

I revisit a phase from my younger days
when my own mind 
was patched together with 
regular pumps of Prozac—my mouth 
perpetually dry, a tremor 
disrupting my brush
as I painted the scarlet blooms 
of the flame of the forest near 
the railway lines. Those days,
with my instrument stranded in
a different country, I pined 
for Saturdays, when a stolen hour at
a pianist friend’s place, to play 
the fragments of pieces I still 
remembered, was my thin escape 
from the voices
thrumming in my head.

It’s evening and he messages again:
Will this help her? Will she be herself 
again? I sigh and bite my lip,
texting back that I’ve found 
a Baldwin in the neighbourhood,
great sounding, reasonable condition, 
free to a good home. Then I add 
a heart emoji after 
my most reassuring cliches—
Things will get better,
One day at a time.

Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad is an Indian-Australian artist, poet, and pianist who lives and works in Sydney on the land of the Ku-ring-gai people of the Eora Nation. A member of Sydney’s North Shore Poetry Project, Oormila is a chief editor for Authora Australis. Recent poems have been featured in Tistelblomma, Silver Birch Press, and Underwood Press, and Oormila’s recent artwork has appeared in The Amsterdam Quarterly, Back Patio Press, and on the covers of Pithead Chapel, Ang(st) the body zine. Find her @oormilaprahlad and www.instagram.com/oormila_paintings

Photo by unknown photographer