Oma’s Prelude by Renée Lallier

The day withdraws behind the rain
conversation sags, we drift alone
into our separate dreams
while your children sleep upstairs
held lightly by the river rising

On a white piano in this small brown room
my hands mark time
halting, hovering
like a nervous aunt
over chords I long to cradle

The rhythm breaks–I must repeat the measure
groping in the lapse of hand and eye
for the memory of touch
meted out in meager, hasty
lessons by my Oma long ago
her own hand inert and jealous
baring still the ache and scar
of a nerve and future severed
by the smashing of a pickle jar
splintering on cellar steps
she trudged, begrudging duty,
her mind distracted by the beauty
of the prelude she would play that night

From that day on she vowed
to bear no other children
to take no other husband, when
hers did not return from war,
to live long suffering in a foreign land.

She read me all the grimmest tales
she compressed all my burning fevers
and to hoard the secret she had lost
she let her life hang limp
and cold around my hope

Again my rhythm falters
I fall behind the river’s pace
remembering more than I was taught
I hear the prelude all too truly
as your children stir and wake upstairs

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