Diaspora in F Major

Issue FourPoetry

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By Tess Barry


Eat lemon altogether, she says,

cold go outWhat you playLuna Sonata?

My fevered fingers stumble through Beethoven

as she keeps time against

a tight miniskirt, chipped red nails tapping,

one and da, two and da.

D Minor like stranger,

F Major more open, like friend.

Faster. Tempo need go like river.

Count lips.

She brushes a strand of hair from my face,

tells me about her rent increase, her grandson,

the crazy Russian psychiatrist she’s been in love with for years,

sex, vodka, pickles,

and roast beef sandwiches.

He drink a lot. He crazy man. American man like nice roast beef. Dis okay.

Russian man just vodka and cucumber wid salt. What dis, cucumber wid salt?

“A pickle,” I tell her.

Vodka wid pickle he okay. What note first space, second line?

Dis very difficult, maybe one year you need practice.


Tchaikovsky stares me down from atop her piano

and she’s next to me on the bench,

opening F Major like a stuck jar,

and I’m sneezing as I jam the pedals of her Steinway,

bought with a credit card booted from her now ex-husband.

That was twenty-five years ago,

after she had already crossed an ocean,

left behind Grandfather Lenin,

the unrelenting cold of the Ukraine,

and her beloved father to die alone.

He best.


Soon I’m in her chair, and she’s playing

her song, Tchaikovsky’s Oktober, done up like Garbo

in a white scarf and hat, her wilted platinum curls

masking the soiled rim of her beret,

her bowed legs rocking the pedals stiffly,


the limbs of a Nutcracker,

her eyes watery and milky, like an ancient oyster

who’s survived the ocean’s depth

and its endless surging waves,

only to find itself belly up on a three-pronged fork.


When the lesson ends

she kisses me. Her drugstore lipstick

stains my clammy cheek,

Eat lemon altogether, she says,

cold go out.


“Diaspora in F Major” was previously published in the Pittsburgh City Paper”, USA in 2010.


Artwork by Jackie Benney. Published with permission of the artist.