Ode to the Piano, a Poem

Mary Jo Balistreri, who has a hearing loss, writes of the piano as an honest friend and lifelong teacher in this uplifting poem dedicated to Nancy Williams.

by | Nov 17, 2014

Flashes_of_Hope_Annika_Connor painting of purple skyline
Flashes of Hope, a watercolor by Contributing Artist Annika Connor.

Poet’s Introduction: I was stunned when I first saw GRAND PIANO PASSION™—it was beautiful the way it connected the arts, and I found it healing to read through the archives. I wrote to Founding Editor Nancy M. Williams immediately, and told her how I’d been a concert pianist and harpsichordist, how I’d lost my hearing from radiation therapy. Nancy was encouraging and has published some of my poems. She is an excellent pianist, and has become a spokesperson for musicians with hearing loss. Whenever I read GRAND PIANO PASSION™, I come away uplifted, so I decided to write a poem to thank Nancy.

Ode to the Piano

for Nancy

Frustration_Forest_Annika_Connor Frustration Forest, a watercolor by Contributing Artist Annika Connor.


uminous in ebony
huge on life’s stage
beloved by multitudes
Piano    you are master of harmony
world ambassador of peace
your language without words
speaks the music of Earth
From your strings made from fire
to your body made from forest
you resonate with sound
When I was three
and sitting on the floor
outside Gramma’s French doors
I heard and memorized
the music of your voice
When Gramma discovered me
I told her about the songs
I’d learned by listening
She lifted me up to see
your golden harp
its beautiful strings
that could answer
my questions
with just a touch
of your eighty-eight keys
Shown how to play
with your magic
I skipped along
your keyboard   You made the sound
of the brook
you could echo like the fog horn
or unfold each held note
like the nasturtium’s petals
Sometimes you were
gentle rain
but when I pounded
you were thunder
Night_Flowers_Annika_Connor Night Flowers, a watercolor by Contributing Artist Annika Connor.
You were the only one
who told the truth—
sharp or flat
augmented   diminished
a single lament
O Piano    you have aged
with me and how grateful
I am you did not go away
You mirror my spirit
each small vibration
each hammer of sound
From Bach to Beethoven
from Debussy to Ravel
you gave me enough color
to say everything I couldn’t
any other way
major or minor  it didn’t matter
And when I lost my hearing
you waited until I was ready
then helped me remember—
melodies and harmonies
rhythm and line
You rendered Chopin’s music
with such sensitivity
led me forward
when my own sound grew dim
I recalled
his long melodious phrases
subtleties of chromatics
and grand passions
and though I could no longer
hear his music
it was stored in my memory
I realized how lines of music
are like lines of poetry
how both require silence
to be heard
Deer_in_Snow_Forest_Annika_Connor Deer in Snow Forest, a watercolor by Annika Connor.
Life-long friend
thank you for taking me
raw and unformed
for rounding me
like a river stone
tumbling me like sea glass
showing me that beauty
could be accessed
how hard work could
almost be play
Thank you for allowing
me failure    teaching me
a wave that can
topple me over
is only one wave
for showing me
how music and poetry
are like tides
daughters of the moon


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. Her latest chapbook, Best Brothers, was published in 2013 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 maryjobalistreripoet.com.
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 annikaconnor.com and find her on Facebook.com/AnnikaConnorArtist.


  1. Avatar

    What an incredibly beautiful poem! Thanks for sharing it. Although I am not hearing challenged, I SO relate your poem. I am not a concert pianist but have been playing the piano since before I can remember as a child.

    • Nancy M. Williams, Founding Editor

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed the poem. I was very honored when Mary Jo dedicated it to me! That’s very inspiring to read that the piano has been such an important part of your life for so long!


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