Piano Lessons

I learned pain at the bench of the piano.
My shoulders taut with tension, black pulses pushing up the back of my neck,
knotting around my eyes as I sat upright, practiced my scales and arpeggios
up and down the black and white keys,
my pleasure in the clean, even sound
pitted against the urge to buckle
under the pressure
inside my head.

At ten, and on, I ignored the throbbing as I mastered
Clementi and Bach and Chopin, 
focused to keep time with the metronome, for hands to work
together, or separately, but always
in balance.

 Earning candy and praise from Miss Welty
who expected sacrifice for the privilege
of a perfect cadence. 
And I complied, agreed, 

Over time, the posture of practice and pain left behind,
the ache in my head and shoulders
subsided. Resurfaced decades later
with pregnancy, with disease.

The throbbing accompanies the imprecise
balance and trembling
hands of my brain’s demyelination,
as the upright piano stands unused, 

unsung and out of tune in my childhood home.
My fingers curl, handwriting
deteriorates, focus narrows from
precision to determination 

To keep moving, 
to not falter on
the now shifting ground. 

- Ann Wallace


Ann E. Wallace writes poetry and nonfiction about illness, motherhood, and other everyday realities. Her work has appeared in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Wordgathering, The Literary Nest, Rogue Agent, and Mothers Always Write, as well as in HerStory. She lives in Jersey City, NJ where she teaches English at New Jersey City University. She is on Twitter @annwlace409.