Poet’s Introduction: The Minute Waltz (Opus 64 No. 1) by Chopin was my first experience of music as more than just pleasant sounds. I was spellbound by the piano playing this piece. I didn’t know its name, didn’t know it was classical music, but something happened inside me. The pianist played it three or four times that night, and what I remember is hardly breathing, music that made me cry, music I took to sleep with me. I was only nine, and I knew I wanted to learn that piece, to play music like that forever.
The Minute Waltz
t was nighttime, South Dakota hot,
enervating, sticky, breathless.
Locked in my room high under the eaves,
I became a nine-year-old princess trapped
in a tower prison, sent to bed while
it was still light. I sulked, no rescue in sight,
when the German Shepherd next door
brought hope with his intense barking.
Standing tiptoe on my bed, I could
just manage to see car doors open
and close, kaleidoscopic patterns that spun
into color and activity: a black dress
trimmed in pink satin, a huge orchid bow,
a flowered halter dress, A-line with capped
sleeves, a boy in white twirling a sailor-
It must have been a graduation party
for the big girls, and I listened to silvery
sounds of teenagers laughing, drinking pop
and clinking ice in the tub outside the door.
Voices bubbled, pitched in gay tones
of expectation. The parched desert of my room
felt cooler. Stacks of 45’s and 78’s entered
the buzz and Patti Page sang “Tennessee Waltz.”
Snatches of other bandstand favorites drifted
and hung in the stifling air. Elvis, the Chordettes,
and Brenda Lee wooed their way into hearts
ready for romance.
Much later, someone began playing the piano.
It was the delicacy of a music box and the clarity
of Gramma’s cut crystal, the cool loveliness
of summer rain and the drama of a stormy sky.
I had never heard anything so beautiful.
I let the music wrap all around me, the wonder
of it wash through me.
That night, a prince floated through my attic
window, came to me not on braids of yellow-gold,
but on woven lines of melody. Chopin unlocked
the music within, “The Minute Waltz,” the key
to myself. Like Rapunzel, I reached out and never let go.
Guest Poet and Writer, Mary Jo Balistreri, is the author of two books of poetry, Joy in the Morning (2008) and Gathering the Harvest (2012), both published by Bellowing Ark Press. A chapbook, Best Brothers, is due out in late August by Tiger’s Eye Press. She is one of the founding members of Grace River Poets, an outreach program of poetry for women’s shelters, churches, and schools. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals, and she is the recipient of two Pushcart nominations. Visit her at maryjobalistreripoet.com.
In this video, Stanislav Bunin plays Chopin’s The Minute Waltz, the music of inspiration in Mary Jo Balistreri’s eponymous poem.