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Insomnia of the Luthier

ISSUE:  Summer 2001


for Deborah Eisenberg

In the night shop’s Gothic theater,
where unstrung carcasses of violins
and cellos are laid out on tables

for repair, their mysteries exposed
to the ceiling, and others tilt in racks
or hang in parts from rafters,

awaiting purfling or varnish—
and the air is close with the glue pot’s
mammalian whiff of boiled hock

and sinew—he’s thinking of bridges,
of the quirky, spread-eagled pose
of Renaissance wedges, the pendant,

inverted hearts of the “Paris” and “Tuscan,”
the wide, asymmetrical feet of the Strativari—
as though their role of transferring

the vibration of string to body
might redeem his long, subcellular
awareness of hair and gut, molecules

of proteins wound in spirals, and linked
with simple bonds of sulphur. Or the saw-dusted
slabs of spruce and snakewood

he foists, and cuts, and sands—dead,
biologically, for a hundred years,
or more. Maestro of resins—

copal and mastic—aproned scullion
to the feast—he knows it would take
the sound of 25 stringed orchestras

just to light the dim-watted bulb
he watches by tonight. No harem
of tuned odalisques reclining on curtained stages

for him. That resonance is the way
even a still thing vibrates naturally may explain
the quaver in his eye. Or not. He knows

these dismantled bodies are alive.
He feels himself a kind of bridge,
squat, broad-shouldered soldier

in watchful, burdened stance
above the sleepers. He believes
that if their resonance were allowed

to turn into pure sound, instead of changing
shape, there would be an unbearably long
and excrutiating sob from everything we touch.


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