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The Hotel by the Sea
Susan Mitchell

In the hotel by the sea a man is playing the piano.
The piano wants to be played
like a pinball machine, it wants the man to lean his weight
against the music until the sound tilts. But the man
wanders inside the piano like someone looking
for an elevator in a drafty building
or like a drunk who can't find
his way in a song he keeps repeating.

The piano wants to play leaky faucets and water running
all night in the toilets of a train station.
It wants to play obscenities
and the delicate moths that scratch their bellies
on the ballroom screens.
The piano wants to scratch. It wants to spit
on the pavement. It wants to look into stores where women
try on clothes and open their thighs to the mirrors.

The piano wants to be a fat woman. It wants to play
baggy and flab and carry tuna sandwiches to work
in brown paper. It wants to dress up in sequins and eat
fried fish. It wants to suck its fingers and flick
ashes into the ocean. And it wants to squeeze
into a single note,
a silvery tube, and hold its breath.
The piano tells the man to forget everything
he ever learned and play the music boys pass in secret
from desk to desk at school, the blue saliva
of their kisses. The man feels left out of
this music and thinks of going for cigarettes.
The piano wants to drink up
the butts littering the ballroom.
It wants to sit down on the dance floor
and sob with joy, it wants to rub

all memory of celebration from the man's fingers.
The piano wants to blow its nose
in the music and play the silence of the room and the rain
falling outside. It wants to play the pores
in the man's face and his chapped hands.
The piano wants the man to dance
in his sports shirt and floppy pants.
It wants him to ride up and down

the hotel elevators and follow women back
to their rooms. It wants him to pull roses from their hair
and mice and light up like an arcade.
The piano is sick and tired
of this man's hands which sit down
on their grief, as on a jetty, and count the stars.
The piano doesn't care about hard times.
It wants to stay up all night
and tell unrepeatable stories to the ocean.
It wants a sound to come
from this man's mouth, even though his teeth
are picked clean.
The man won't know the sound
when he makes it. He'll think a woman is kissing Kleenex.
He'll think it's 4 A.M. and he can't buy
a pack of anything anywhere.

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