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My daughter in prison plays the piano.
She plays from memory, eyes closed,
her heart a violin stringing along
as piano notes fall like raindrops
soft while cedar trees and tulips
bend to her allure
there are movements
            musical interludes
her long fingers barely touch
one key before alighting on the next
rolling up and down, a lift
at first playful and easy, then loud
in a key of meaning while low sun warms the floor
and lingers like a kiss
a yearning
for something called love.

Enliven it now, that memory, pick up the pace.
            See her at the Young Chang
as I round the corner and pull into the driveway
a twelve-year-old practicing on the upright
so I do not park my heart at empty but at a
home flowing with Sonatina in G Major by Beethoven
a girl making music after her father ran away.

Except. She is only pretending
I will learn, much later, how the blue bench cushion
became a launch pad to an alternative universe
somewhere between fear and possibility as she plucked
at ragged sheet music in grief, threadbare shame,
composed in a little cell with her life
little now, safe and contained and cruel, and family
claiming they can’t fix anything, fade into silence.

Musicians say it is the notes not played that make the song.

Meanwhile, my daughter splices quarter notes with eighths,
off-key, a symphony of stones, a cacophony
as by now I imagine—wouldn’t you?—she pounds
each key with fury
a bluebird fighting a crow for the last speck.


Kathryn Gahl’s favorite things (besides words) are cooking, humor, Feldenkrais, open minds, red lipstick, and dancing mad hot ballroom. Her awards include The Hal Prize for fiction and poetry.

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Phone: 608.733.6633


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3rd Floor, Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608.733.6633 x25