THE GRAIN OF SOUND
by Robert Morgan
A banjo maker in the mountains,
when looking out for wood to carve
an instrument, will walk among
the trees and knock on trunks. He'll hit
the bark and listen for a note.
A hickory makes the brightest sound;
the poplar has a mellow ease.
But only straightest grain will keep
the purity of tone, the sought --
for depth that makes the licks sparkle.
A banjo has a shining shiver.
Its twangs will glitter like the light
on splashing water. But the face
of banjo is a drum of hide
of cow, or cat, or even skunk.
The hide will magnify the note,
the sad of honest pain, the chill
blood song, lament, confession, haunt,
as tree will sing again from root
and vein and sap and twig in wind
and cat will moan as hand plucks nerve,
picks bone and cell and gut and pricks
the heart as blood will answer blood
and love begins to knock along the grain.
Robert Morgan is a professor of English at Cornell University. His novel will be published this fall.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 1999; The Grain of Sound; Volume 283, No. 6; page 108.