He was born with the fingerpads of the blind.
By eight he could tell if someone
had been at the piano before him,
and how long before, and who.
Beginning Fur Elise one November afternoon,
he burst into storms of tears
because his sister had banged
her tuneless anger the night before,
and he felt the bruises still on the keys.
He was born with the ears of a dog.
He could hear his mother’s skin decay,
the soft give
as her cheeks sagged just barely more.
Sometimes his face would cloud
because the moan of needles becoming
earth seemed so incomparably sad.
Or brighten. He had heard
the sun come out on the beating feathers
of birds, miles away.
He was born with his life in his hands.
Toddling, he learned the little bells
of Grieg. Then he mastered Mozart’s
speech, its ache of clean and brittle
song. Then he learned to follow Bach,
crossing water from calm to flood,
up and down the stepping-stones
of the keys. He would dream
of his piano as if it were flesh.
In a room with a strange instrument
he would walk by it once or twice
brushing it, as if by accident,
with his leg, his sleeve.
Lola Haskins is a director of From the Fishouse. She is the author of eight collections of poetry. The Prodigy is from Forty-four Ambitions for the Piano (University Press of Florida, 1990/ second edition Betony Press, 1992).
Poem, copyright © Lola Haskins, 1992
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse