Prelude in E Minor, a Poem

During a performance of the Chopin Prelude in E Minor, the feeling of fear brought poet Mary Jo Balistreri’s memory back to a childhood drowning incident.
Seagulls, a watercolor by Contributing Artist Annika Connor.

Poet’s Introduction: Maybe because I was afraid at this first really important concert as a 10-year-old, felt the taste of fear, the piano so huge, it somehow came back—the drowning incident that took place when I was five. Who knows what the heart remembers, why memories come back when they do. But the incident is irrevocably connected with that concert, and yet once I was at the piano, it was the music, the Chopin Prelude in E Minor, that took over.

Prelude in E Minor

Not enough. One life is not enough
Czeslaw Milosz, “Dawns”


child in the wings. Frozen in fright.
Fear, metallic in her mouth. Sweat,
slippery on her small hands. She wants
her mother, the old upright Wurlitzer, her collie
curled beside her listening to Chopin. Instead,
she sees iron ore ships cut through blue-black
Superior, waves curl and swell. The deep,
deep water, swirling, taking Billy, his red shirt
billowing for a moment the way the poppies
in Gramma’s garden fill with sun. She hears
whispers, a sea of strangers, feels the gentle push
and she’s walking across the bright-lit stage,
the dark expanse out there somewhere.

The Silence.

She sits at the big grand piano, black and shiny
with reflected light, bouncing like the Christmas
lights of the aerial bridge. She slips inside
the single line of Chopin’s anguish, her cry
unraveling with him, the final high-pitched
wail, no match for the bottomless depths
of the unrelenting chords, coming in increments,
eddies, echoes. Her hands hover over the keys
until there is nothing, the fermata stilling even

The last three chords, beautiful, terrible, each note final
and forever, vanish in the sound’s last breath.

She becomes aware of the heat, the flush
of re-entry. And in the brief moment of quiet
and dark, just before the thunder of applause, she gets
what comes at the best moments of performance,
the green-growing feeling of something pushing
upward through the moist garden of her heart, all
those hearts in the audience.

As she plays that prelude again today, alone in a distant place,
the words of Milosz return.

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 May 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 three Pushcart nominations. Visit her at

In this video, concert pianist Alon Goldstein plays Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor, Opus 28, No. 4.

Contributing Artist Annika Connor is a Contemporary Romantic painter and a Young Fellow of the Frick Collection. Her work depicts a fascination with beauty and decadence. See more of her paintings at and find her on


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