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The Grain of Sound

In my tattered copy of a book simply titled Good Poems (selected by Garrison Keillor), this page is one of many that are dog-eared (gasp!). I think I remember a librarian in fifth grade telling me that this was the unpardonable sin, so each time I feel that crunch of paper fibers beneath my thumb, it thrills me. Renegade behavior, I know. There’s not much I need to say about this poem, except that I thought it appropriate that it be shared with my Rabbit Room friends.

I dedicate this post to a one Mister Ron Block (cue the Casey Kasem Top 40 theme music). I’ll be aghast if he hasn’t already encountered this poem and all but committed the lines to memory, but just in case he hasn’t..

“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, even though its face is just 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 skin and gut and pricks the heart as blood will answer blood and love begins to knock along the grain.


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