smells of damp backyards, potato soup, harbour bars after rain, of school rooms, war and gun powder, perfume and palace gardens in spring. I caress the piano’s soul which is black and white in equal measure; sometimes it is covered in ashes, sometimes gold leaf. I caress its varnished back, place a velvet cloth over it and listen to it breathe deeply, its strings tightened to tearing point. More than half a century ago the soul of the piano came floating upstream on the Danube from the Black Sea—my father sailed it as it sang of the source of rivers and long dusty summer roads. My father was nine years old and wore a sailor suit and a boater with a blue ribbon. A Swabian cabinet-maker fished them out, built a lidded box for the soul of the piano, told it that its task was resonance and obedience and propped it upright against the wall of his tool shed. After my father had fled to live in the desert where he studied papyrus scrolls by starlight it was abandoned and forgotten. Bats hung upside down asleep in its reverberating coffin-black case. Spiders, dragging their silken threads behind them, walked all over it and it fell into a long sleep wrapped in cobwebs, bat droppings and sawdust. Sometimes there was a faint echo of faraway bells in the shed. Sometimes a string snapped when rats marched on the broken keys. In a dream the soul of the piano danced in Warsaw streets and knelt on the Place de la Concorde amidst horse-dung and blood. It dreamed of storms, of thunder and hail showers, it dreamed of spring mornings. Once a young woman in pain from a broken heart said a name and the name stayed in the soul of the piano forever. Another time a man sick unto death dressed in coat tails with bloodied shirtfront played it more beautifully than anyone had ever played it. A magician from Africa cast a spell on it and it flew across continents like a comet releasing a trail of glittering notes. Sometimes the soul sheds its case and remembers how to use its keys to open all conceivable locks on earth.
Eva Bourke has published five collections of poetry, most recently The Latitude of Naples (Dedalus, 2005). Her New and Selected Poems is due out next year. She has published several books of translations of Irish and German poets. She is just completing the translations for an anthology of German poetry of the 20th and 21st centuries for the Poetry Europe Series of the Dedalus Press. She is a member of Aosdána.