Literature 12-23-2007

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Jeff Kelley

Just in time for Christmas, this week's winning poem, "My Daughter Practicing the Piano," by Jeff Kelley.


My Daughter Practicing the Piano

In this room we learned
to make our way and to have
our way taken from us.

I have slipped in unnoticed.
She sits poised at the keyboard,
ready for wood and strings

to come to life,
to give again their long
necklace of bone

for her fingers’ play.
The first phrases sound childish,
but sureness grows.

Her hands sweep
across the stuttered keys,
looking now,

for what hides
between the notes.
Each time she fears it lost,

fears her body will fail
to bring alive the memory.
She begins to gather

and to build. Her fingers
feel the making.

What rises with the music
lifts me as well.

But then I hear her falter
and know that all will fall,
that father, mother,

brother, friends will put her
back to start again
in this room where we learn

to make our way and to have
our way taken from us.


I find Zen practice and poetry practice to be quite compatible, as the intention of each is, I believe, to become unusually alive and then express this aliveness in the world. The synthesis of image, sound, syntax, line and stanza breaks, etc. required in the writing of poetry is not unlike the synthesis required of the various elements that make up architecture. I am currently reading the Old Testament. It’s stories often point to the undercurrents of family life, a theme of this poem.


Jeff Kelley has practiced as an architect, either full or part time, since 1986. He is the father of two, including a piano-playing daughter. He has engaged in the construction, the craft, the magic of poetry at various times during the last thirty years. In the spring of 2008, he will be ordained as a Zen priest.