THE BUSH PIANO
© Gary Harding
Winner, 2010 ‘Bryan Kelleher Literary Award’, Australian Unity, South Melbourne, Victoria.
Let me wander in my dreaming where enchanting visions thrill,
Past the signposts of my childhood that bush memories instill.
Let me hear above the clamour those piano melodies,
Rustic notes that softly blended with the murmur of the trees.
I can see our family mustered when the day was growing dim,
When the silhouetted gumtrees crowned the distant glowing rim.
With our songbooks and our places that by ritual were deemed,
Children closest to the fire where the whistling kettle steamed.
No fixed regimen would call us, we just gathered one by one
Like a flock around a shepherd when the working day was done.
Sure and nimble mother's fingers tripped the keys of black and white,
When her left hand turned the pages she played double with her right!
Father thumped that old piano. Mother pumped it with her foot.
Borers dined upon its timber making mounds of sawdust soot.
That piano was a marvel and it made the room resound
To those weird and doubtful harmonies that in the bush abound.
It was called upon each birthday and would serve at weddings too.
It was popular at Christmas; where the presents were, we knew!
It paid scant salute to tuning but could make the rafters ring.
It had pitch much less than perfect - father mended it with string.
Every here and there a glue-line showed a ready bush repair,
While a cushioned tree-stump doubled as a rough piano chair.
Cracked and peeling, squeaking hinges, on its lid we put our hats,
Yet despite its drab appearance it had mighty sharps and flats!
Oh, the songs that sprang among us spread like ripples on a pool,
Mother kept an eye upon us seated firmly on the "stool".
Ne'er a kinder hand would comfort but could wag a finger down,
If we lost our concentration she would note it with a frown.
When young Annie sang a solo over all there fell a hush,
For her sweet melodic carols were a rival to the thrush.
You would sense the bush a-listening when her voice rang clear and fair,
While the lamplight flickered yellow in her youthful woven hair.
Are the silent walls repining for their merry choral throng,
When the corridors re-echoed to the lilting of a song?
Do they hear the bush piano; do they keep the portrait bright
Of our little band foregathered by that instrument at night?
That assembly now has vanished in the modern rush and push,
And those scattered souls have drifted from the bosom of the bush.
Still perchance the possums gambol where fine fingers tinker not,
And mayhap the magpies nestle where the sagging panels rot.
Though more cultured are the concerts that the grand-pianos give,
Grander far the golden melodies collected in our sieve.
Yes, the world will know sad parting and will feel too late the pain,
When those little bush pianos play their final sweet refrain.