Piano, a Poem

In this poem consisting of a single sentence, Dan Howell draws on a lived experience to describe the sound of an older woman playing.

by | Nov 8, 2022

Elderly woman in red dress playing piano


Her wattled fingers can’t
stroke the keys with much
grace or assurance anymore,
and the tempo is always
rubato, halting, but still
that sound—notes quivering
and clear in their singularity,
filing down the hallway—
aches with pure intention, the
melody somehow prettier
as a remnant than
whatever it used to be.
This poem first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Poetry, and was later published in a chapbook, Whatever Light Used to Be (Workhorse, 2018). Used with permission from the author.
Dan Howell’s first collection of poems, Lost Country (Massachusetts), was the runner-up in 1993 for the Norma Farber First Book Award of the Poetry Society of America and short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Other awards include a Writing Fellowship (Poetry) at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Tom McAfee Discovery Award (Missouri Review), and a citation for Notable Essay in Best American Essays 1993. A chapbook of poems, Whatever Light Used to Be (Workhorse) was published in 2018, and a book-length narrative poem, Eden Incarnadine, or The Authentic History of the Terrible Harpes (Broadstone Books) was published in 2019. Currently Dan Howell lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Sitting Person Playing Piano, a photo by Kevin Li.


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