Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Why I Love the Fiddle

For the heart is a river in a country of dams.
For lament and pleasure cannot live one without the other in a single chest’s width.
For I too hum awhile after a pluck or stroke.
For the men of CĂșchulainn, in their hurry to war, took barely corn in their pockets for food.
Where they were cut down: green barley shoots in the spring.
For it is the slender fiddle can carry such grief.
For her light is maiden.
For she is called Devil’s Box.
For the old joke, “Why don’t Baptists like sex? Because it might lead to dancing.”
For my friend who can no longer walk says, “Let the fiddles out of their cages.” We take cases
from under the beds and set fiddles around him. He lies all morning on his living room
floor among their strewn light.
For I no longer wish to live sick and apart from my sorrow.
For the men of Altoona called the graveyard shift third trick.
For they came off third trick from the railroad yards cracking and stretching their hands
to the music store opened early Saturday for them in the beaten part of town
where they tucked themselves around banjos fiddles mandolins guitars, touching these most
For Jess Markum didn’t know the stroke had taken his music.
Jess Markum, once state fiddle champion of West Virginia, which is to say the world.
For he would bang into the Saturday morning session and utterly bury them, standing in the open
door, playing the siren call of demolition, the gut wail of sawed cat, the last shriek
ruination makes us pray.
And nobody much liked Jess, something he’d done to his wife or theirs, years before.
Once I saw Mark swing himself up from the group and stride over to Jess, both of them still
as Mark leaned in to Jess’s fiddle. As Jess never seemed to see him.
As Mark straightened, left off his song, labored a new one into what Jess did
until their bow strokes began to match and the tune poured clear again from the old man.
As the store owner’s daughter, nine years old, upright and shining,
at the edge of the group played a three-quarter fiddle she had named Beauty.  

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