Pieces for the left hand

images-1This title, pieces for the left hand, is usually about piano pieces.  But on one blog or another, I read about J. Robert Lennon’s book with that title, and it sounded interesting enough to check out.  These little vignettes are mostly ironic, short pieces that make you smile or grimace.  Here’s a typical sample:


A local novelist spent ten years writing a book about our region and its inhabitants which, when completed, added up to more than a thousand pages. Exhausted by her effort, she at last sent it off to a publisher, only to be told that it would have to be cut by nearly half. Though daunted by the work ahead of her, the novelist was encouraged by the publisher’s interest and spent more than a year excising material.

But by the time she reached the requested length, the novelist found it difficult to stop. In the early days of her editing, she would struggle for hours to remove words from a sentence, only to discover that its paragraph was better off without it. Soon she discovered that removing sentences from a paragraph was rarely as effective as cutting entire paragraphs, nor was selectively erasing paragraphs from a chapter as satisfying as eliminating chapters entirely. After another year, she had whittled the good down to a a short story, which she sent to magazines.

Multiple rejections, however, drove her back to the chopping block, where she reduced her story to a vignette, the vignette to an anecdote, the anecdote to an aphorism, and the aphorism, at last, to this haiku:

Tiny Upstate town
Undergoes many changes
Nevertheless endures

Unfortunately, no magazine would publish the haiku. The novelist has printed it on note cards, which she can be found giving away to passersby in our town park, where she is known sometimes to sleep, except when the police, whose thuggish tactics she so neatly parodied in her original manuscript, bring her in on charges of vagrancy. I have a copy of the haiku pinned above my desk, its note card grimy and furred along the edges from multiple profferings, and  I read it frequently, sometimes with pity but always with awe.

*                                                                *                                                                *

As do I! Clever in so many ways, with so many layers. And while I’m on the subject, the Swedish Poet, Tomas Tranströmer, had a stroke in 1990 that affected his right side. One of his hobbies is playing the piano.  His wife immediately went and bought him all the pieces for the left hand she could find.  Here’s a poem of his:


I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively and calm.

The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn’t pay the emperor tax.

I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.

I hoist the Haydnflag – it signifies:
“We don’t give in. But want peace.’

The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.

And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.


Tomas Tranströmer

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