Piano Man

Paul Barton, a self-taught British pianist and painter, moved to Thailand in 1966 to teach piano. He became involved with Elephants World, a wildlife sanctuary on the banks of the River Kwai in Kanchanabury, which is home to elephants formerly used and abused in Thailand’s logging industry and as tourist attractions. Many of the elephants are blind, disabled and psychologically damaged. Paul regularly plays piano for these rescued elephants on a nearby mountainside. His story is told in an award-winning documentary, Music for Elephants.

A blind bull elephant,
his mouth full of barna
grass, picks up his head, turns
toward the sounds of Bach
scaling mountain breezes
like a snowy egret.

Another, tusks broken,
toenails slashed like tires in
a junkyard, stops mid-climb
to lift his heavy trunk.
He sways with a chorale
like a seasoned conductor.

More gather by the man
at the wooden upright
he has planted in the
bush as gently as if
it were a parlor salon
where draperies rustle

and crystal goblets clink.
Soon Mozart joins them all
in an arc of pink gold
sunset and softening air.
Nothing holds them here but
a pianist’s nimble hands.

Before forest havens
vanished, they ruled with
resonance. Perhaps these
notes call back tales once told
in jungle darkness, as stars
riffed, trilled, danced above them.

Mary K. O’Melveny is a retired labor rights lawyer who embraced poetry in recent years. She lives with her wife Susan in Washington, DC and Woodstock, NY. Her award-winning poetry has appeared in many print and on-line journals, anthologies and blog sites. Mary is the author of the poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age (Finishing Line Press, 2018) and co-author of an anthology of writing by The Hudson Valley Women’s Writing Group, An Apple In Her Hand (Codhill Press, 2019). Her poetry collection, Merging Star Hypotheses, was recently accepted for publication.