Today, Kathleen M. Kelley shows us how we can forget that aging brings its own comforts and surprises, only to be upended by the human capacity for resilience. You can almost hear the moments of deliverance in the music and musicians she describes  in this moving poem. 



I had studied all the war I could stomach,
decided we had all lost touch with
whatever it is makes us human.
Believe me, I am not young, I have read
the Buddha’s Five Contemplations:  
every single thing will be taken from me. 
How to bear being old?
This veil of competence I wear–
once torn to shreds, who leads the way?
It has not been given to me
to look for guidance in the usual places.
Then I hear them play.


She sits on the bench
left hand only on the keys, 
him beside her in a wheelchair,
right hand on the keys,
left arm, flaccid, in his lap.
After the stroke, when his left side
refused to come back to him,
he invited her to take its place
while he stood in for her right.


No doubt she is lonely, yet not alone.
His body is broken, yet whole.
With whatever remains, he makes the music he can.


I close my eyes to see if I can tell
the two hands playing the prelude belong to
two brains, two sets of ears, two pairs of eyes. 
But the music is a seamless fusion of beauty and intelligence.
When I tell him this and he looks up at me
folding the hand I offer into his,
his eyes are the blue of seawater
just when the sun starts to rise,
pour back the light of day.
Kathleen KelleyKathleen M. Kelley’s chapbook The Waiting Room received the Philbrick Poetry Award, judged by Marge Piercy, in 2010.  She was awarded the Anderbo Poetry prize in 2008.

Her work has appeared in the following journals: Theodate, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Persimmon Tree, The Sun, Earth’s Daughters, Peregrine, Perigee, The Green Fuse, Evergreen Chronicles, and Mediphores. Her poems are included in these anthologies: The 2012 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine Anthology, Women’s Encounters with the Mental Health Establishment, and The Patient Who Changed my Life.




Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Diane Dettmann January 19, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Stanza two touched me visually and emotionally. Thank you, Kathleen, for sharing “Duet”!

  • Fiona January 19, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Gorgeous language. Wonderful poet. Thank you.

  • Carol Arrington January 19, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    thank you for the lovely, inciteful poem. Just what I needed this Sun

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen January 19, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Thank you for this beautiful poem that speaks to us about the joy in solutions found as age and disorders present problems. I will never forget this image of one hand from two people finding a way to create music and imagining the joy that this brings. Thank you Kathleen Kelley.

  • [email protected] January 19, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Lovely poem, esp. now that my brother is semi-incapacitated.