St. Patrick's Day was always an excuse
to throw a party big enough to fill
our house in Cottonwood. Those were the days,
mid-Seventies, before the cigarette
was driven out of doors so that we all drank
green beer and ate corned beef and talked as if
each one of us had kissed the Blarney stone
while wreathed in smoke that drifted, hung, with no one
deeper in cloud than he who blew his own
and sat at our piano, a crowd cheering him on,
our own Icelandic Scott Joplin, Bill Holm,
smoking musically as well, his fingers
romping non-stop for what now seems hours.
We brought him drinks whenever fuel ran low,
but you can guess the accumulating heat—
the smokiness, the bodies jammed together
full of food and drink, and Bill pounding at the keys,
the perspiration darkening his shirt.
So that the morning after, recovered from
the night before, when we came down the stairs,
we noticed right away the piano bench,
the stains, discoloration, new to it.
Two semi-circles against the lid's dark wood.
And then we realized what they were: sweat stains,
the perfect outline of the Maestro's buttocks,
or as St. Patrick would say, "And sure if it isn't
his holy arse, preserved like the relic of a saint."
My wife and I were stunned to find ourselves
possessors of this…well, call it a record
of our friend's presence, persistence
at the keyboard, a sign of generosity,
how Bill gave and gave in many ways. But what
to do with it? Detach the lid to frame
and hang on the wall, a conversation piece?
About that time, a literary auction—
Milkweed? the Loft?—had us conjecturing
the bench, if donated, would cause a bidding war.
Or maybe our St. Patrick was right, and the lid
was a kind of secular Shroud of Turin,
the site of future miracles—a bad
manuscript, rubbed against it, would turn artful,
or Republicans, touching it, would turn Democrats.
I don't know where it is now, or if my ex-
still has it. But I know where I want it to be,
in some Heaven where Bill plays the piano and sits
on that same bench, sharing it with J. S. Bach,
the two of them playing the fourhand repertoire
with breaks for Bill to teach Johann some ragtime,
Bach on the left semi-circle, Bill on the right.
No, Bach on the right, Bill always on the left.
Bury me in the timeless pause
between the cellist's last note—her bow
in its lifting feathery, slow—
and the onset, the daring, of applause.