Monday, February 22, 2021

Airborne in Uncertain Sound: How I Became a Poet : Essay by B. Lynne Zika


Airborne in Uncertain Sound:

How I Became a Poet

Essay by B. Lynne Zika

It’s not that I was intimidated by famous people. Or eccentrics. By the time I was nine, I’d had dinner with Werner Von Braun. I’d ridden a hundred-year-old tortoise with a white-haired woman at the Washington Zoo. I’d made friends with the daughter of a fellow named Al who broke into our house one midnight to play a crashing rendition of The Brandenburg Concerto on the downstairs baby grand. So the fact that Felix Molzer had directed the Vienna Boys Choir, the fact that his hands floated above the keyboard with the grace of a saw-whet owl—neither of these was the reason I sat down on the piano bench beside him and began to cry.

Felix taught my sister and me piano. In exchange, our mother cooked him rich Southern dinners and basked (albeit shyly) in his benign adoration. Our mother wore a chignon and deep purple lipstick. She was not difficult to adore. Probably he was handsome: broad shoulders, steel-grey hair. I’d have called him imposing, had I known the word at the time.

I was certainly bent on pleasing him. I practiced every day. B, B, B, thwang. B, B, B—

B, B, B, G, thwang. By 3:00 on Tuesdays I managed an accurate, if halting, recital of that week’s Bach or Haydn minuet. But this particular Tuesday, Felix dispensed with the assignment and asked me to place my thumbs on middle C and play the scales backwards.

I stared at the keyboard. I placed my right pinky on the high C and gave him a descending scale.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Begin with both thumbs on middle C.”

I settled the thumbs and tried to stretch a diminutive right pinky an octave higher.

“No,” he said. “Not descending. Backwards.”

I stood up, took a deep breath, sat down again, and cried.

Years later I would attempt to master the backwards reflexes of driving a car in reverse. If you want to back up toward your right, you must turn the wheel so that the front end of the car moves left. I tried to conceptualize this phenomenon. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made and the more paralyzed I became. My body learned to parallel park only when it disengaged my brain.

Felix Molzer was a bit surprised to find his charge weeping. He took a white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my eyes. He took me onto his lap. The long, white hands glided together and rested on middle C. Then, like an owl opening its wings, they feathered across the keyboard, one hand flying up the scale; the other, down. They landed, in simple precision, on the low and high C.

During the following week, my hands learned their flight. I also carefully prepared my next failure, the one that would end my career with the piano and begin my career with—well, a different sort of keyboard.

As our homework, Felix had asked us for an original composition. I wanted to create an accompaniment to a poem I had written. The music was to complement the words—to underscore them—not as a melody for a lyric but as a subtext to the spoken word. It was impossible. I couldn’t even manage a bar.

The next Tuesday, as I was creeping down the stairs toward certain humiliation, I over-heard my father in the living room.

“And she told me,” he said, “that it wouldn’t work because she could not make the piano sound like a rabbit!” Felix and my father laughed (and laughed).

Then my father recited the poem:

The rabbit has a habit

of sitting on his heels,

and when I see him doing it,

I wonder how it feels.

I knew they were pleased. I could not tame the piano, but I had tried. I knew also that the words were clear, that the sound of them ruffled the air, as if a hand were passing over a silent keyboard, as if a bird stopped for a moment in mid-flight.

B. Lynne Zika’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary publications, including globalpoemic, Poetry East, and The Anthology of American Poets. In addition to editing poetry and nonfiction, she worked as a closed-captioning editor for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She received a Pacificus Foundation Literary Award in short fiction. Her photography has received several awards, including the 2020 Top Creator Award from Viewbug. Her images may be viewed at


  1. Anonymous2:31 PM

    Absolutely wonderful Lynne! It's as if I am there.

    1. Ah, when a writer hears that, she knows she’s done her job. Thank you so much.

  2. B. Lynne Zika redefines poetry. This short excursion is proof of a third eye and the emotional details of that world in language accessible to the soul. Her photography is luscious icing on the experience. Oh to be Lynne Zika.

    1. What a delightful and generous comment. Thank you. And thank you.