There are Things Only a Piano Can Say

Nathaniel sat at the only place where he could hear what he felt, with his back against the cold rock of a building wall, one leg dangling over the ledge of an eight-storey building. A single cloud passed by overhead, an ephemeral shadow suspended between faint, silver-lit stars and electric rivers of artificial gold. Even through the alarm of a never-sleeping city, he heard the lamenting tune of a piano.  If he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, he could almost feel the notes on his skin. Carried by the mid-night wind, he presumed.

“There are things,” he said aloud without opening his eyes. “That can only be expressed through a piano. But I suppose you already know that.”

A smile briefly touched the corner of his mouth as the melody changed. Opening his eyes, he continued, “Exceptional, isn’t she?”

Nathaniel reached out and grasp the open air with his right hand, as if trying to hold on to the music. “It’s the subtle undertone of hope underneath all that sorrow. Whoever she is, she’s achieved what I never could.”

Tears found their way into his eyes, where they lingered for a long time before finally falling down his cheeks. Somewhere far below, the insistent siren of a police-car overpowered the piano. If only for a moment. Nathaniel drew his right hand back in, and placed it over his heart. Only when he could hear the piano again did he remove it.

“I will not apologise for my tears.” The smile that had briefly touched his face found its way back. “But I understand why they might make you uncomfortable.”

With great caution Nathaniel shifted his position. Now his left leg dangled over the edge instead of his right. The chill of the stone underneath him had worked its way through his clothes and numbed him to the bone.

“There is someone I miss, a great deal. I was never angry like my sister, nor as honest in my despair as my brother. Even though it’s been five years I don’t think either of them understand, why it’s so hard for me to mourn.”

Looking down into his lap and seeing his attentive listener busy playing with his shoelaces, Nathaniel could not help himself. He smiled. He smiled even though his melancholy never fully left his eyes.

“I could never put it into words,” he told the kitten as it pounced his heel. “But I knew the moment I first heard my neighbour play the piano. I knew that someone out there understood.”

“Do you understand?” he asked the little creature.

He allowed himself a brief chuckle when the kitten mewed at him. “You probably do.”

When the distant piano’s final note rang out, Nathaniel picked the kitten up, so that he could have a closer look at the collar. “Does your owner know you’re up here?”

Both of his eyebrows rose up when he noted the names inscribed on the tiny medallion attached to the collar. Laughter worked its way up from his stomach and out into the night. “Life sure is strange! Let’s get you home to your musically gifted human.”

He rose, stepped down from his perch and onto the roof of the building, carrying the kitten in his arms. With his shoelaces chewed on and slightly undone, he made sure he paid attention to every step he took.

Opening the door to the building and stepping through, he made his way down two flights of stairs. Eventually he stood outside a door he had never knocked on before.

Looking down at the squirming little creature, he took a deep breath and rapped his knuckles against the door. “There is something I need to ask,” he whispered and looked up in time to see the door swing open.

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Spring Morning

I see before me a river valley,
Framed by cloud-piercing mountains.
I stand just above the tree-line,
Breathing cold, thin air.
With snow that never melts,
underneath my feet ~
I gaze down at spring,
in full bloom.
Yet just as a smile is about to find me,
I open my eyes.
Groggy, I stare… into the ceiling,
And curse my shitty curtains.

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Only With Time

Some say that time heals.

But in truth,

Pain is the is the cleanser.

Fear of this purging flame, 

Is not quite accurate.

Fear of the fire itself,

Or fear of being scorched ~

Pain is not scary, not even a little.

Only with time does it become truly terrifying.

Be it ache, wounds, or trauma,

It is not pain,

But pain without end ~

We should fear.

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Not Just Me

I used to dream of the wind. I welcomed her cold touch, no matter the season. I have always known, however, who is hiding in my shadow.I have dreamed of you as well.

It has been quite some time, since we spoke. Longer yet since I dreamed.I suppose I have hidden myself away a little too well. Escaped into my cave. But what use is trying, when your hiding from your own shadow?

Not quite true. A lie, if a brief one. It would be more accurate to say that I have hidden within my shadow. I like wearing it, it fits me like a nice coat.

I have what I need. A place to sleep, but nothing soft. My back cannot stand too soft. A blanket too, just the one. Then there are candles. Gentle, discrete, considerate candles.

Allow me a sigh as I speak, just the one is enough. It is high time we spoke. I want it back, you see. My ability to dream. I would not waste them on the wind. No, this time I would dream for two. Not just me.

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The Sounds of Very Old Things

When I think of China or Chinese culture, my mind inevitably goes to music. While there are a couple of ancient instruments, my favourite has to be the Erhu. Few things sound as haunting and beautiful as the Erhu in the hands of a master practitioner.

The sound of the Erhu is also something that sounds unmistakably Chinese, even to someone who does not know that an Erhu is a two-stringed, bowed musical instrument. For this reason, if I have to choose an item that to me represents the China’s ancient culture – I would have chosen something that represents the Erhu. Alas, I could not find such an object in the short timeframe I had at my disposal. I did however find this!


This is earthenware depicts a kneeling musician playing the Se (瑟), a very old form of Chinese zither – or Guzheng (古箏). Not to be confused with the Guqin(古琴)! The kneeling figure was part of a set, representing a troupe of musicians along with two dancers. They were found in the grave of a prince, presumably so that they could perform for him in the afterlife. The excavation occurred in 1989-1990, from Prince Chu’s(楚王) tomb at Tuolanshan(驮篮山), Xuzhou(徐州市), Jiangsu(江苏省). Music was a big part of court rituals, and the number of performers made available depended on a noble person’s rank. The earthenware itself dates from ca. 206 B.C. to 9 A.D. Western Han Dynasty.

The Se is sometimes said to be an older and larger version of the Guzheng, but what is the difference between the Guzheng and the Guqin? Well, for a start, the Guqin is smaller, has fewer strings and a deeper sound. The Guqin has also been considered a favourite of scholars and have been connected to persons such as Zhuge Liang (Kongming), and Confucius. Below is a dramatization of a moment out of the screen adaption of Romance of the Three Kingdoms from 2010. Here, Zhuge Liang performs his empty fort stratagem with the aid of a Guqin.

Now, if we were to listen to a performance of a Guzheng, we can both see and hear the differences in sound. Yet they both have the same unmistakably chinese feeling the Erhu has. Historically, the Guzheng is not, however, a female only instrument – or a “girly” instrument. Those notions are probably derived from current day popular culture i.e. Wuxia and fictional historical palace dramas.

One of the reasons I chose this earthenware figure, which was seen on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is because I have seen it so many times in popular media and fiction. For me, it represents not only what once was, but also something very modern. That it is beautiful to listen to does not hurt either! To me it is not strange that this instrument has been around in one form or another since the warring states period, and I do not think it is going to disappear anytime soon.

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Words to Unburden a Heavy Heart

Sleep is a curious thing, especially when insistent thoughts won’t let you close your eyes. It takes a bit of time for the mind to catch up with the heart, especially when it feels this heavy. You mean so much to so many of us, you always will, death does not change that. I have been trying to put into words what you mean to me – but no matter how my thoughts churn and my heart insists, it is too hard.

This has always been my way, awake, lingering until everyone else is asleep (as they are now). I need the quiet in order to hear my emotions. It has not sunken in yet, but I feel a heavy weight pressing down on my ribcage. There is also intermittent sorrow, but it comes over me in waves that pass too quickly for me to latch onto them – to process.

I try to remember, I try to summon the many memories I have, but something will not let me. Instead, the memories come to me as I sleep. When sleep finally finds me it is deep and heavy. I have nightmares,  but they are unrelated and without connection to my memories of you. I see you between them, as if you’re reminding me to breathe.

Sometimes I barely notice when the words find their way onto the blank pages in front of me. Other times I have to force each one out. Tonight, they do not come easy. There is a part of me that wants to cry, even scream.

I think of everyone whose lives all began with you or were touched by yours. I think of my brothers, and my father, and his brothers, and my cousins. I think of my mother too, and my maternal grandparents. But most of all I think of my grandfather, your husband, my dad’s dad.

I am choosing to see all of the sorrow I am picking up as the true measure of how loved you are. It is difficult for me, to be around everyone. I get so overwhelmed. Yet I imagine we all find sleep with warm tears, heart in throat, and insistent thoughts.

We love you, Farmor, always.

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When we were kids in the car (while dad drove and mom slept)

Could it be? Has it truly been twenty years? The memories seem to match the feeling. Some things are different, but that’s how these things usually go. Youngest brother is driving, dad is sitting here in the back (on my left) listening to an audio book while resting his eyes. Middle brother is carrying the conversation, all the while setting the mood with dulcet tunes and handpicked songs. 

I imagine we must look a little comical, father and three sons – all of us just a little too tall to sit comfortably in any car. Mom had to pass this time, but i am sure she would have loved to come.And so would we! (Even though she would undoubtedly snore <3).

We remember the same things, but tell our story in different ways. We share the laughs, and the nostalgia too. 

The world beyond the car is sound asleep. The hour creeps toward 02:00. We are all awake, eager to reminisce perhaps. Remembering the many trips to our grandparents’ house – always arriving late at night after many hours in the car. Middle brother mentions the clock in one of dad’s old cars, and the memory of our grandparents’ driveway returns. The image and sounds come with surprising lucidity.

Much have happened in twenty years, and some things have indeed changed. In many ways, so have we. No matter how different we might be, though, we still share the same love – and joy.

I know we count ourselves among the fortunate few – and if you happened to sit in the car with us…

We would count you in too.

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