‘Parlor Music,’
A Poem by Devin Johnston

From the Collection Mosses and Lichens

June 3, 2019  By Devin Johnston

Advertised in the laundry room,
a Wurlitzer spinet from ’46,
abandoned by a tenant
who couldn’t make the rent:
The manufacturer calls to mind
a jukebox with its neon arc,
carnivals and carousels,
entertainments cheap and public.
I’m doubtful they made good pianos.
Still, the landlady let it go
for three hundred dollars
and helped me wheel it
down to my unit
where it sits against the wall,
a wardrobe of mahogany wood,
sheet music stored inside the bench
purely aspirational.

My aunt had such an instrument,
an upright polished yet unplayed
in a parlor that no children entered,
couch and armchair covered
with plastic slips, a faint whiff
of lemon Pledge and potpourri.
Through all those years, the lid held
a basket of wax fruit.
Strict and taciturn, my aunt
only sang in church
and kept her daughter away from us,
as we were wild, unsupervised,
and mixed with every sort.
Her shotgun duplex lay within
a ward of silent porches,
lawns overrun
with star-of-Bethlehem,
the local industry reduced
to ring binders and rubber stamps.

After she died, and we all came back
for the funeral, a small affair,
I stripped off the plastic
and stretched out on the couch.
My cousin, then past fifty,
picked up a dusty wax peach
and with a confidential air
turned it over to show me
the imprint of a child’s teeth.


Excerpted from Mosses and Lichens: Poems by Devin Johnston. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux May 7th 2019. Copyright © 2019 by Devin Johnston. All rights reserved.

Devin Johnston
Devin Johnston
Born in 1970, Devin Johnston spent his childhood in North Carolina. He is the author of five previous books of poetry and two books of prose, including Creaturely and Other Essays. He works for Flood Editions, an independent publishing house, and teaches at Saint Louis University in Missouri.

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