Well, You Needn’t

By William Matthews 1942–1997 William Matthews
Rather than hold his hands properly   
arched off the keys, like cats
with their backs up,
Monk, playing block chords,
hit the keys with his fingertips well   
above his wrists,

shoulders up, wrists down, scarce   
room for the pencil, ground   
freshly to a point,
piano teachers love to poke
into the palms of junior
pianists with lazy hands.

What easy villains these robotic   
dullards are in their floral-
print teaching dresses
(can those mauve blurs be
peonies?). The teachers’ plucky,   
make-do wardrobes suggest, like the wan

bloom of dust the couch exhaled   
when I scrunched down to wait   
for Mrs. Oxley, just how we value   
them. She’d launch my predecessor   
home and drink some lemonade,   
then free me from the couch.

The wisdom in Rocky Mount,
North Carolina, where Monk grew up,   
is that those names, Thelonious   
Sphere, came later, but nobody’s   
sure: he made his escape
by turning himself into a genius

in broad daylight while nobody   
watched. Just a weird little black   
kid one day and next thing anybody   
knew he was inexplicable
and gone. We don’t give lessons   
in that. In fact it’s to stave off

such desertions that we pay
for lessons. It works for a while.   
Think of all the time we spend   
thinking about our kids.
It’s Mrs. Oxley, the frump
with a metronome, and Mr. Mote,

the bad teacher and secret weeper,   
we might think on, and everyone   
we pay to tend our young, opaque   
and truculent and terrified,   
not yet ready to replace us,   
or escape us, if that be the work.

William Matthews, “Well, You Needn’t” from Time and Money: New Poems. Copyright © 1995 by William Matthews. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Time and Money: New Poems (1995)

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Poet William Matthews 1942–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Music, Youth, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 William  Matthews


William Matthews's poetry has earned him a reputation as a master of well-turned phrases, wise sayings, and rich metaphors. Much of Matthews's poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness. In another type of poem, he focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. His early writing was free-form and epigrammatic. As his career has . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Music, Youth, Living, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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