It seemed to fall from the sky like an anvil or piano,
The weather extraordinarily pleasant for Buffalo
In autumn, in wartime. We had several rented instruments
To choose from, each a democratic machine, a garment
To each who played. The catch was the kazoo, made of tin,
Though all were slightly out of tune. Even the mannequin

Who stood in the window couldn’t maintain he was an assassin
For long. The music was such that every piano
And piccolo, every last one, stank of an ideal even the tin
Gods could agree on. But that was later, in Idaho,
In the spring. We were still upstate, picking peppermint,
Waiting for a note so we could tune our instruments

Before the summer warped them. “Instruments
Such as these must be preserved!” declared the mannequin,
Much to our surprise. Unlike his profession to be so ebullient.
Still, one can’t hate a man who plays ragtime piano
With such panache. I hadn’t heard such passion since Mexico,
The bullfighters with flowers in their hair, banging tin

Cans as they entered the ring. And after the tin
Came the paper, then the silver and gold, such instruments
Making winter pass quickly (so it seemed) in Jericho.
“Stand firm, or sit down, but don’t befriend assassins,
Even if you know their names. A man can play piano
To an empty room and earn a better night’s retirement.”

The point was lost long ago. Overrun by perfidious rodent,
Both cellar and attic are in bad need of cleaning, and Tin
Pan Alley has gone the way of kudzu; the piano
Needs a coat of wax and a good stripping. "New instruments
Come in various disrepairs and love the mannequins
Best when they’re shipped straight from El Dorado

This evening to you." And then, of course, there is Rochambeau,
Who, having defeated the British at Yorktown, went
On to have a middle school named after him. The assassins
In the audience know what I mean. They are made of tin,
And do not rust so easily, except in rain. Each instrument
Is ours, and we share in its playing as we share this piano…

Forget the piano, friend—we will always have Tupelo.
We will always have an instrument called a president,
Something made of tin that can’t help but be a mannequin.