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Studio, and: Piano
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I've been given a cabin on the Gulf and six weeks
to make sense of what's eluded me
for sixty-one years. Each day: a worrying
into words. Last night I stood on the beach
and looked out at the Gulf, then up
at the Milky Way and the two Bears
and then at my little cabin, with its two
dusty windows, and its light on the table
where I left my books and my notes
for poems—it was enough to clarify
what I would and would not accomplish.

I really don't know any other way
of trying to make sense of my life,
Penn Warren, sixty-five, wrote to his old friend
Allen Tate, enclosing a draft of a poem,
some new words to catch what was lost
the moment it occurred. The morning here is
one thing, then another—rain, sun, fog,
the light on the water gray, green, silver blue.
Clouds settle in then lift. The air's granular
then clear. There's a pattern
in these scatterings, and there isn't.

I've been watching a fisherman casting out
and reeling in for hours, nothing to show
for his time. When someone asks
if he's caught anything, he replies,
"I'm hopeful"—and I think of the psychologist
on the radio the other night, explaining
our incessant need to check our inbox.
Intermittent reinforcement, he called it,
adapting language for the behavior
of lab rats. Once food is placed in
their maze on random days, they can't
stop looking for more; like us, he said,
once an e-mail has brought good news.

The tide's going out, and the sand,
washed clean, could be a Zen garden plot
ready to quiet all thought in silence.
The fisherman has broken down his rods
and carries them off now in an empty bucket,
happy enough, it seems, with his few hours
of meditative practice. I used to worry
about running out of words for things.
Now I worry I won't use up all the words
I've been given. Here, in my ill-lit cabin,
shadows moving across the walls,
I live for that poem or two that seem
to gather from the world, or my mind,
or both, what they have to give.


No one could say how it came to be there,
on an islet of sand just above high tide
one morning—a grand piano left
for some Crusoe to make use of.
The picture in the paper—a bird's-eye view
from one of those eye-in-the-sky helicopters—
makes it seem like a New Yorker cartoon
looking for a caption, or a piano looking
for a gull to plink a one-note concert
by John Cage. It could be an installation
by an unknown artist who's waiting
for someone to get what the piano is
saying. Or just a late-in-the-night prank
of some buzzed college kids
looking for some music in their lives.

No answers were ever found.
Miami officials decided to let it be
a roosting place for gulls and pelicans.
Last night I dreamed I was fishing around
the little island where the piano sits.
Drifting close, I kept hearing the words
of songs I'd forgotten, but it wasn't the songs
that mattered; it was all the old questions
that were suddenly pressing again—
Where did it come from? Why was it here?
What did it mean? The sun was hot, the sky
so intensely blue I could barely face it.
I wasn't catching anything, and, as usual,
only silence was answering the big questions,
but I felt alive, really alive, tuned again
to what is here without explanation.

Robert Cording  

Robert Cording teaches at the College of the Holy Cross, where he is the Barrett Professor in Creative Writing. He has published six collections of poems, most recently Walking With Ruskin, which was runner-up for the 2012 Poets' Prize. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in poetry and two poetry grants from the Connecticut Commission of the Arts. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Orion, and...

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