The Poetry of Pianos and Windmills

by Jane Engleman

Fractal made of curving ridges that give the impression of waves or a landscape

I want to write a lot, so I want to write many little booklets. But I have to begin with the music of poetry. And that, like most of my emails, is going to take us around through the rabbit hole to the can of worms. Sometimes our frequencies wriggle like worms or ramen or Jackson Pollock. But in about sixteen pages, I’d like you to notice the protein in the fractals.

Because, Baby, there is a beautiful music in poetry. We write it down easy on staffs, but the orchestration is complex. And stunning. Spoken word, like good medicine and good nutrition, is healing and empowering. And it can kill people—like pharmaceuticals as a business, or sweet and salty snacks for cash.

I started out in college as a piano major, and then dropped it and dropped out, grateful now—I don’t know how I would have carted a Steinway Grand around to about five different mental hospitals, a board and care, and dozens and dozens of bus benches with no shade and often no buses. Poetry is cheap and easy, it requires nothing but your life, your soul and your relationships. It takes bad credit.

But I carry that grand piano in my head most minutes. I’m always testing, testing, testing Concert A. I love E Major and the sevenths. Pianos are like windmills. They require little maintenance or energy mostly, as long as there is a paid farmer mechanic or a master tuner. These instruments work, like poets, on natural vibration, like the larynx and the diaphragm that cradle-rocks the solar plexi. Any old biddy can play the piano if you stick with two notes with plenty of years of rest between. Anybody can make a windmill sing with plenty of water and plenty of wind. And anybody can dance a talk, if only with fingers or eyelids or handprints in ash on a rock.

Pianos and windmills are gentle. They’re run by a goddess out there. They’re strung. They sing. They laugh. They’re real. They raise up life from secret sacred roots and sources. They get disgruntled in a storm, and they let you know from the get-go when they are really mad. The madder, the richer.

My piano is a fiction; I can’t play keyboards except to improv with vagabonds at Union Station, the Norris Cancer Center, the Calvin Abode with Medicine Dance, or at the UU Church of LA. The audience has to agree to cacophonous chaos or I might get shot. The Rach is all in a pot in my head. But I love about paper what Miles Davis once said about his trumpet, “Sometimes I can get it to talk.”

Events in life bring us to our knees until we’re ready to listen to the beauty in them. We have been given riches of mineral springs and steel strings of mechanical instruments. My poetry is my piano and my windmill. Every syllable is a beat; every breath of wind is a pull on the springs beneath the mountain.

Poetry is that, low-maintenance energy—power, if cared for. I am so eager, like a little kid with a sticky note of a chord progression on an upright Kawai in the shack of the clubhouse, to show you.