The family story tells, and it was told true,
of my great-grandfather who begat eight
genius children and bought twelve almost-new
grand pianos. He left a considerable estate
when he died. The children honored their
separate arts; two became moderately famous,
three married and fattened their delicate share
of wealth and brilliance. The sixth one was
a concert pianist. She had a notable career
and wore cropped hair and walked like a man,
or so I heard when prying a childhood car
into the hushed talk of the straight Maine clan.
One died a pinafore child, she stays her five
years forever. And here is one that wrote-
I sort his odd books and wonder his once alive
words and scratch out my short marginal notes
and finger my accounts.
back from that great-grandfather I have come
to tidy a country graveyard for his sake,
to chat with the custodian under a yearly sun
and touch a ghost sound where it lies awake.
I like best to think of that Bunyan man
slapping his thighs and trading the yankee sale
for one dozen grand pianos. it fit his plan
of culture to do it big. On this same scale
he built seven arking houses and they still stand.
One, five stories up, straight up like a square
box, still dominates its coastal edge of land.
It is rented cheap in the summer musted air
to sneaker-footed families who pad through
its rooms and sometimes finger the yellow keys
of an old piano that wheezes bells of mildew.
Like a shoe factory amid the spruce trees
it squats; flat roof and rows of windows spying
through the mist. Where those eight children danced
their starfished summers, the thirty-six pines sighing,
that bearded man walked giant steps and chanced
his gifts in numbers.
Back from that great-grandfather I have come
to puzzle a bending gravestone for his sake,
to question this diminishing and feed a minimum
of children their careful slice of suburban cake.