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.

banjoI 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.