A Song for a Raised Voice and a Screwdriver

p
o
e
m
s

Having climbed into my lap, the accordion
composes
its heavy breathing.      Who
turned Gregor Samsa
into this black box?    The old man

who taught me to play accordion banged
a screwdriver on a school desk.
For what?
For a beat!

He wore thick glasses, with lenses yellowed like toenails.
Ex-solider, he had war medals and no rhythm.

Stepanych, you banged the accordion buttons
like a man stuck in an elevator.

I limped
across the keys
following the promise of the screwdriver.

Listen to me now missing the beat as if dodging
rubber bullets, Stepanych, I’m your student

to the bone. Stepanych, I’m
a bone snatched
by the giant spider
of an accordion, stretching its leggy belts
        over my back

“His strange heart beating next to mine” and yada-yada.

I imagine you buried with that screwdriver
like with a scepter – an emperor,
Stepanych the Pitchless.

Your student places her accordion like an ancestral
altar
on an empty chair.

Children, we learned rhythm
from the piss-stained hiccup of elevators,
from the broken blinking of traffic lights.

I’m barricaded behind a sob.

Give me that screwdriver beat, Stepanych,
and I’ll be off.

Valzhyna Mort’s new book of poetry, Music for the Dead and Resurrected, comes out this month from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Born in Minsk, Belarus, she teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian.

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