Issue 23: Patrick Cotter

The Piano of El Médano

Each morning after rush hour they emerged

from a doorway on Cal Teobaldo Power:

the men who could never venture out without

a piano over their heads – a baby grand,

so that it took ten of them to walk all over

town without strain; down by the pier,

where you could swear the seagulls

sang sean-nos between gulps of fishheads;

through the marketplace where aging hippies

flogged courgettes, stained glass earrings

and wall masks fashioned from porous,

crumbly solidified magma; past the 3D,

metre high, cut-out, white lettered sign

of the town’s name against which tourists

selfied, with the sea and dormant volcanoes

posing behind them.  The piano cover, red

velvet, reached down to the waists

of the men so nobody could see their faces

and the piano legs were six feet long

so they could set it down when they reached

a café and could order coffees or aperitifs

they sipped unseen beneath the red

velvet cover. Thunks and clangs fell

to their feet whenever they were on the move.

Of course, it was never in tune and yet once

I heard the first three notes of McCartney’s

Yesterday peal out perfectly, followed by

the right length pause before more

pure cacophony like the arrhythmic pulses

of metal-hearted beasts.

“If we could all live long enough,

and watch them do this billions of times,

eventually we would hear Love is a Many


Splendoured Bird played perfectly by complete

accident’ said the man I later learned the locals called

‘professor’. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad.

The Hound Artist

The one who clasped the collar on

is as absent as the virtuous family

in the vintage photographs fastened

to the wall behind; as still and dutiful

as the day they lingered for the slow exposure,

as still as this dutiful hound now, not needing

a leash and yet leashed with a long lash of leather

as slack as superfluous. She has a red-

coated, palace guard’s inscrutability. One

might think a mouse could skitter across

her paws, a kitten claw at her nose and she

wouldn’t flinch. The surrounding room looks

like it would collapse first, the stool with its uneven

legs, the lilting sideboard decades without polish,

the doorway drapes frayed and dustcovered,

the floor unlevel, crying for a screed, and she

too secure and self-assured to even be proud.

Her gaze on me lacks expectation, she appears

as detached as the Buddha, the Buddha in canine

form. I find myself overcome with an unwillingness

to move, not out of fear as before a snarler, a drooler,

a curled-lip fang-revealer, but as before a great artist

who deserves a moment devoid of distraction.

I am in awe of this performance, of an artform

I neither recognise nor understand, perhaps

I am missing the dimension of smell or high decibel

hearing which might explain everything, as I try

to remember how I reached this room, how long ago.

Patrick Cotter is the author of Perplexed Skin and Making Music. His poems have appeared in the Financial Times, Five Dials, London Review of Books, Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review and elsewhere. He has received the Keats-Shelley Prize.

Copyright © 2019 by Patrick Cotter, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.