Sufflation for a Found Harmonium Tuned to ‘Ay No!’
The harmonium had been evicted at night.
We found it on our way back from a party
standing on the kerb waiting for the furniture crushers.
My depressed boyfriend decided this was to be my birthday gift,
and, with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, he proclaimed: we will move it like the Egyptians!
I worked arduously as he gave instructions, mad with adrenaline
saying heave at regular intervals.
A clever system of pulleys, planks of wood and rolling pins was used
to glide the harmonium across the city.
It was the only time either of us attempted a feat of that scale.
Many years after my boyfriend’s disappearance,
the harmonium, with its stops and levers, multiple wooden compartments,
and idiosyncratic tuning,
had served a long career as a sideboard, wardrobe, cupboard,
filing cabinet, shelving unit, picture holder, bedside table,
Japanese folding screen, room divider, shoe rack,
mirror, stereo, prayer book, chartreuse lamp,
reproduction antique cocktails cabinet,
headboard, Moses basket, conservatory,
child’s climbing frame and cat scratching tower.
But the time had finally come for me to leave this city, and I realised
it was my duty to return the harmonium to its rightful place.
On the morning before its departure
I sat ceremonially before it. Back straight, heart open,
I let my shoulders drop.
Our chests faced each other, terribly solid.
I inhaled, and pressed the pedals
synching up my breath
to the whirring mechanism encased in wood:
I know the
I know you were
I just wanted to check
to look at things I knew would make me feel bad
I know because when you appear
when you press my pedals gently I drive us off the cliff
I know because I’ve seen this before
The harmonium creaks and groans like an enchanted forest creature.
Through the dusty wooden lattice
it slowly blows its notes at me,
infusing me with spirit as I play my tune.
It has many arabesque mouths that sing:
I know because
I begin to understand better
and they say that knowing your mind can change the world
the question is: what do I value most
look at the sky, and think about what you love
think about the sun shining through the vaseline layer of cloud
that makes all contours soft
The harmonium needed to travel down four flights of stairs
from my garret by the train station to a rural cottage in Lanark.
I found another depressed boyfriend on Gumtree
to assist me with this task.
He turned up still-drunk and I heard them
swear through the piped notes as the weight tumbled down all 94 steps
a terrible sound of defenestration:
half accordion, half fridge.
I pretended I was too weak to help
but once they were out on the street
I breezed by, offering cups of takeaway coffee
to the heroes of the day.
After they departed
I got a text offering me to come visit Lanark sometime
and play the harmonium whenever I wanted
since I had such a strong connection to the instrument.
But I don’t need to actually travel there to play out those droney sounds:
I know why I left my home behind
I know why the sun on its bow and arrow
reflects back at me the image of –
JUANA ADCOCK is a poet and translator. She has published Manca (Argonautica, 2019), and Split (Blue Diode Press, 2019) which was a Poetry Book Society Choice and was included in the Guardian’s Best Poetry of 2019.