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                                                                                                Michaela A. Gabriel



"Szpilman? Good name for a pianist."

 (from the film "The Pianist", 2002)


The Memory of Keys

-- for Wladyslaw Szpilman


You press your ear against the wall:

an out-of-tune instrument caresses

you like Dorota's smile, once, before

the unspeakable swept over the

ghetto, a silencing black wave.


Scraping one last handful of crumbs

from a skillet, you remember father

cutting a caramel into six tiny parts,

an overpriced last meal in a dusty

town square smelling of fear.


How do you keep madness at bay

during such days? The ghost of hope,

the spectre of love are waiting for

a chance to strangle you, bury your

sanity beneath a memory of keys.


How do you go to sleep when in

your dreams that train departs again

and again, you run faster, faster,

reaching for your father's palm?

Each time you wake up alone


with the Warsaw winter creeping

under your blankets, choking water

pipes, gnawing at shrivelled potatoes

in the wooden kitchen cabinet.


Two hideouts later, a piano in the corner

whispers to you in black and white,

in minor key, the language of Chopin,

temptation for your calloused hands.


But music can only exist in your head.

You sit at the rickety table playing

one silent note for mother, one for

father, a final tremolo for Halina.





tuesday rules of conduct

use no more than twenty-one vowels
per minute, carry extra consonants
in all pockets. speak in polysyllables
unless asked for directions.

keep away from riddles written before
you were born. all clues have withered,
no crystal ball will keep you from insanity.

never read obituaries, regardless of
their impeccable alphabetical order.
find yourself a fad that won't conjure up
crude apparitions at the breakfast table.

never wipe your hands on the blanket.
it would not shake off the aroma
of oranges until friday night.

do not plan romantic trips to paris.
stick to plain pancakes, cheap fun,
save your aphrodisiac for a day
that does not include the letter e.

avoid all cracks in the pavement.
this is no way to find out about your
labile mental state. trust the voices.

do not dream of kissing someone you
already know. everyone would call you a
cheat, thief of innocence. your pregnancy
would give rise to unflattering speculations.



when visiting family you can't stand



wear houndstooth check, tiny tartan pattern.

cross-eyed relatives make a tame audience that

won't look daggers at you for snide comments

about auntie's toyboy, the smell of her breath.



answer all statements with a dry that's what

you think. nobody is used to so much assent.

minds reeling, they'll soon be lost for words.



discuss your different personalities: zelda

with her emerald hair; curt whose opiate

addiction worries everyone; that sassy girl

who keeps backbiting your dear relations.



retell the conversation you had a week ago

with the black sheep of your family who talks

plenty but still gives no reasons for his suicide.



refuse to sit on anything but your worn brown

cushion. someone will sniff at this, propose

bringing your own cutlery next. smile sweetly,

fetch knife and fork from your corduroy bag.



mutter to yourself during dinner, but fend off

attempts at small talk by putting a finger to your

lips. spear a piece of meat with obvious glee.



drink a lot of wine, ideally from valuable

bottles found in the basement's cobwebbed

corners. let some of it bleed onto damask

tablecloth, call it a miracle, suggest a shrine.




Frau Rausch


buys apples at the corner store. She doesn't

often shop; she's got her boys. We spoke once,

the day I moved in. She was born in this house,

seventy-odd years ago. Someone stole her ficus

in 2002, probably the lesbians from number 13.


Frau Rausch always looks dapper when she

ventures out: neat clothes, perfectly permed.

I wonder what her first name is. Maria, perhaps,

oddly fitting for a woman in a strange ménage

à trois, her and two grown sons in that small flat.


Frau Rausch is a little hard of hearing;

that keeps me up to date on soap operas,

endless talk shows. Sometimes, making love,

I wonder what happens once they switch off

the TV, a moan interrupting their sudden silence.


I am sure Frau Rausch knows the answer

when she asks: What was that? Her boys feign

ignorance, dreading our next encounter in the hall.

They shuffle off to bed, leave mama in the dark,

an ear pressed hard against the wall.




                                                                                             © Michaela A. Gabriel

triple rule

Loch Raven Review Winter 2005 — Vol. I, No. 2
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