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Aunt Mae’s Player Piano
Patricia Williams


It sat in an alcove off the parlor
in Great-aunt Mae’s house,
came alive on Friday nights.
Mae, my mother, her cousins, and I
gathered ‘round the archaic upright,
pumped the pedal and sang old songs
from Aunt Mae’s younger days.
Ebony and ivory keys
danced without help from human fingers.
Rotating rolls, yellowed by time,
peppered with cryptic perforations,
resonated with ragtime
and operetta music.
Aunt Mae had a peculiar voice,
warbled louder than everyone else,
reminded me of a yodel –
When we sang The Desert Song,
she closed her eyes and sinuously swayed.
Transported to Morocco,
Mae became Myrna Loy.*
I can feel the grit of the desert
on certain Friday nights.  
I see camels with riders crossing the dunes                                    
and hear echoes of a little girl singing –
“My desert is waiting,
dear, come there with me…”

From Midwest Medley (Kelsay Books, 2018).
Used here with permission.

*Actress Myrna Loy appeared in the 1929 film version
of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta,"The Desert Song."


Patricia Williams and her husband live in central Wisconsin amid farm fields and abundant wildlife. She began writing poetry after retiring from 32 years of teaching Art and Design. Poetry, she feels, is painting with words, both using the same design principles. Patricia's work appears in many journals and anthologies, and she is the author of The Port Side of Shadows, a poetry chapbook about her travels, and Midwest Medley: Places & People, Wild Things & Weather, which received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association. Her most recent book is Rejection to Acceptance: 57 Poems That Finally Made It, a collection of poems with commentary. All of the poems in the book were eventually published, but were initially rejected--three, four, even five times. "It's the old theme of ...If at first you don't succeed," says Patricia. "I am a determined (stubborn!) person."


Post New Comment:
Kim McGimpsey:
This reminds me of my grandparents pianola in New Zealand, and the magic of the perforated paper slowly rolling and producing music from the past. I would pump the pedals for so long that I could barely walk the next day.
Posted 03/30/2022 04:04 AM
Lori Levy:
Great narrative poem. Love, "I can feel the grit of the desert/on certain Friday nights."
Posted 03/29/2022 09:03 PM
Got this lovely email today: "This poem evoked powerful memories for me of my two years as a carrier for the morning Knoxville Journal in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1944-1945. On Saturdays I would visit my newspaper customers to collect, and always saved one home for last. They had an enormous upright player piano and dozens of piano rolls for it. They happily let me pump away at the piano and I could control the tempo of the music by the speed or force of my pumping. I first heard Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" played by Gershwin himself on the piano roll with my delighted pumping. I "played" most of the great jazz, popular, and even some concert pianists in that friendly home during the dark days of ending World War II. Powerful memories emerged from reading this poem today." -- Bill Salyers, retired preacher, educator, and consultant
Posted 03/29/2022 08:25 PM
What a fun poem, and what wonderful memories!
Posted 03/29/2022 04:08 PM
Janet Leahy:
A player piano, I always wanted one, but we had an upright which meant I had to practice. I like the way we meet the relatives in this piece, thanks Patricia.
Posted 03/29/2022 10:32 AM
Love this!
Posted 03/29/2022 09:15 AM
Larry Schug:
I echo Sharon's comment. The final verse is my favorite and I like the way the poem builds up to it. A very visual poem.
Posted 03/29/2022 08:44 AM
Unique and compelling . . . nicely done Patricia. The desert is calling!
Posted 03/29/2022 08:31 AM
Sharon Waller Knutson:
I love this narrative nostalgia poem about a player piano bringing families together and transporting them to another land and another time. We have a player piano given to me by an aunt so this poem is dear to me. My favorite stanza is: I can feel the grit of the desert on certain Friday nights. I see camels with riders crossing the dunes and hear echoes of a little girl singing My desert is waiting, dear, come there with me
Posted 03/29/2022 06:57 AM

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