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The Brahms Waltz
Phebe Davidson


after the painting by Robert McGill Mackall


I come into the parlor
at three o’clock, the sun angling in
through the great front bay.
My throat constricts with joy.
There is my mother,
seated at the piano. Her fingers 

barely curve above the keys. 
She is slender, young, 
utterly absorbed by what she will

commit to the air, 
to the curtains it moves,
to my ears so suddenly ripe.

Flowers like loosestrife 
droop in their vase. 
My mother is seated in light.

I am so slight, eleven years old, 
in shadows that tremble to orchid, to blue.
She doesn’t see me.

Her spine is straight.
Her wrists are level, her fingers still. 
The flowers, languid, droop.

My forgotten heart
refuses to beat that second before 
her fingers touch the keys.

This is art. Always the same.
The two of us poised together
on the edge of a waltz by Brahms. 

© by Phebe Davidson.
Used with the author’s permission.

The Brahms Waltz, by Robert McGill MacKall,1923. 
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches. 
This image courtesy of the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia,
where the painting is on permanent display.



Phebe Davidson is the author of 23 published collections of poems. A retired English professor, she thinks of herself as a recovering academic. Still up to her neck in poems, she is the founding editor of Palanquin Press, a contributing editor for Tar River Poetry, and a staff writer for The Asheville Poetry Review. She also serves on the Board of Governors for the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Her poems and essays appear in print journals and on the web. She lives in Westminster, SC with her husband Steve and their cat Fripp.



Post New Comment:
Nabby Dog:
I would reach for "The Brahms Waltz" if I were ever asked to give an example of a perfectly constructed poem. Phebe Davidson has given us a stunning poem to ponder that addresses the universal issue of the resonance of art and the staying power of family love.
Posted 08/22/2011 05:42 PM
Amazing, just loved this. I play piano and my daughter does too. I loved how you had the mother and daughter rhythm poised on the edge of a Waltz by Brahms. We had a cat called Brahms too so this poem says it all for me:)))
Posted 08/22/2011 02:40 PM
a truly wonderful poem, every word spot on, beautiful and poignant.
Posted 08/22/2011 02:14 PM
wendy morton:
A waltz of a poem. How I love this " what she will commit to the air" and that is what Phebe has done in this poem.
Posted 08/22/2011 09:53 AM
Posted 08/22/2011 08:27 AM
Absolutley wonderful
Posted 08/22/2011 06:11 AM

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