James Mulhern has published fiction or poetry in literary journals and anthologies over seventy times. In 2013, he was a Finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a fully paid writing fellowship to Oxford University in the United Kingdom. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His writing (novels and short story collection) earned favorable critiques from Kirkus Reviews, including a Kirkus Star. His most recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, a Notable Best Indie Book of 2019, and a Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Book of 2019.


By James Mulhern

On that gray day, you chopped the Steinway piano with an ax.
Surrounded by yellow and red leaves on the hard earth,
you raised your arm to smash it all apart.

I could only wonder. You were a man raised to think
crying was weak. Strength and power should define you.
Men like you couldn’t voice their secrets or despair.

You shattered the instrument, exorcising its shiny veneer.
Resin-impregnated paper, dovetail joints, wooden ribs,
and polished mahogany scattered around you.

Slowly the curved outline of the piano became a ragged mess.
The soundboard heart cracked. Small planks of air-dried wood
joined the miscellany of strings, keys, and padded hammers.

I thought of my mother, the day she moved out,
how you changed the locks and emptied every closet,
destroying each vestige of your shared lives.

If I had left the window to join you outside,
I would have seen your tears,
glistening strings on the soundboard of a broken soul.