A Gathering around the Family Piano

Gerald Bigelow


There was a wholeness in the family’s dysfunction:

An orchestrated coming together of disparate parts.

Everyone had a moment,

an opportunity,

a responsibility,

a role to play,

a need to pull genius from the air.

Some sang,

some played.

All cared about the music.

“Jazz was in their souls!”

The sounds:

Languid and earthy,

a Blues shout,

a gospel note,

a classical riff;

an alcoholic musing.

Syncopated inebriation

delivering pace to the flowing melody line,

moving in and out,

music swirling like a cat-fight in a smoke-filled box,

an ever-present stupor,

the curse of addiction woven deep in the fabric of family and New Orleans culture.

Glasses too full,

“...far too often.”

They all drank to that!

As a child I sat curious, listening,

gathered close to smell the harmony of voices,

feel the punctuated pounding of cigarette-stained piano keys,

keys scorched by blazing fingers,

leaping across the notes,

music competing with kitchen aromas:

Gumbo boiling,

rice steaming,

eyes weeping,

(Too much pepper!),

too much cigarette smoke,

a bubbling cauldron,

angels and devils mixing,

a potent brew of humanity,

a family whole in their dysfunction.

The steps of time separate the memory from the event,

leaving only a dim light burning.