Rhosonny’s Last Piano
“No tools? Can’t help you.” It looked hopeless.
He was already in the 40’s. Pearl, Worth,
Broadway, Franklin, Broome, Bleeker, Jane,
Somewhere in the West 20s, then around the block
From the Empire State, then 39th off Park
The next now in the far west of 54th
A very old man in a tailored suit, tall,
An 1898 Steinway upright
With an action that crumbled at the lightest touch.
“If you don’t have your own tools I can only pay
Five bucks an hour. Rebuild the action. Mend
The soundboard, restring.” Piano supply: 88
Hammers, 88 damper springs,
88 wippens, damper lift rods,
Bridle straps. pins, flanges, catchers, and jacks,
88 sticker tongues and twenty other
Pieces, none the right size, each
To be carved and sanded to uniform fit
Then regulated for a light touch
And clear sound on new strings and epoxied
Each night’s walk back to a two
Dollar Bowery flop filled with hope and fatigue
Three days of work, each piece of each note
Of the action hand-cut and sanded to fit.
And from this box stored in a basement in Scarsdale
For longer than anyone knows (Rhosonny
Wondered if the old man played it as a child)
The bright new Steinway, shipped from Germany
Under steam power, loved (maybe hated
By a child forced against her will to learn
How to play) but certainly not ignored.
Then (maybe by the very child, when older)
Had some big strong men carry it down
To the basement, where it reverted to dust
Until now, this resurrection for sale.
After he lost an eye (he’d always wanted
To be Odysseus, not the Kyklopes) his hands
Were harder to handle. Small gaps
Were hard to judge,
At the limit, to him, on the order
Of a sixteenth of an inch.
First he tried factories
(He needed a job and he wanted to see
How they ran.) In the first factory
Having no concept of pace, he day by day
Grew faster and better, taking on another
Job, then doing the work of three, then five.
Management liked him. The workers not so much.
He was burning himself up and making them
Look bad. So he quit. This was assembling
Filters for jet engines, then packing them,
All easy in his 16th” range. But the
Next job was silk screening metallic ink
Onto silicon substrates for digital watches.
Nearly all of the workers were women, patient,
Even paced, able to withstand the drudgery
By listening to a rock and roll radio station.
To Rhosonny, each song was like a clock
Ticking while he spent his time away from
What he loved. So even though he now
Worked beyond his 16th inch limit
He pitched his entire focus and energy
To higher production. Good production
Was 3,000 pieces a day with minimal
Waste. Inspectors and producers often
Switched jobs, looking through big
Magnifying glasses at a stream of chips
As they flowed out of the oven. Before
Long, Rhosonny ditched the mag glass
Stopped looking at detail, seeing only
Pattern and imperfect pattern. And
When he sat at the silk screen machine
Twelve thousand pieces would come from
It, playing the machines in patterns
Of notes to the beat of the rock and roll.
So he thought repairing pianos wouldn’t
Be so bad when possibly the most
Beautiful person he knew (Dave Jones —
It’s funny. His name is so common
Most people think it’s not real —
Offered to help him get a job where
He worked. He loved moving them.
And he loved the people he worked
With. The spray booth and stripping
Shed not so much. Restringing was a sort
Of meditation. Dave was a more conscientious
Worker, and faster, and wasn’t so self
Absorbed as Rhosonny, so he did most
Of the detail work, though Rhosonny
Also did some. So this job here
In Manhattan, getting this wreck
To sing, stretched him.
But it did sing — though with more work
It would sing better, but the old man
Was pissed that it took him three days
“One hundred twenty dollars for that?”
He cursed and handed him cash, “There’s
No more work here for you.” Rhosonny
Could never decide, even right up to his death,
Whether the old man had swindled him,
Or whether he actually worked too slowly. Though
The amount suggests that it was Rhosonny
Who got the short end of the arrangement.
It was the last piano he ever worked on.