Open-Backed Banjo

This entry is part 18 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems

I am untroubled by serpents
or the marinated feet of pigs.
I bear no antipathy toward bears
or the bees they bedevil,
& the devil never tempts me
to any evil I can’t invent on my own
(forgive me if I don’t delve into the details).
What makes me break down is a banjo,
lonesome as our only god the clock
but with two hands, both of them fast.
Looking in its open back
can be disconcerting: What makes it go?
There’s nothing but a bare rod
& the smell of rain.
Where’s the balance wheel?
The escapement?
The gear train?
It calls to me, the ghost in its machine.
Play it, son!
Make it ring like a hammer on steel
& rattle like a Gatling gun
until it smokes.

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6 Comments


  1. I’ve been back to this a couple of times — I find it very moving and significant, although I also find it hard to say anything intelligible about it. I know nothing about instruments and have no idea what an “escapement” is (besides a word that cries out to have poems built around it :->)

    There’s nothing but a bare rod
    & the smell of rain.

    — feels biblical in its brevity and certainty and vividness.

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Dale. Balance wheel, escapement, and gear train are all things found in a mechanical timepiece. The bare rod is of course the extention of the neck that ends in a tailpiece on the bottom of the head. I had to resist the strong temptation to refer to it as the spine, which would’ve mixed metaphors with the clock image.

      Reply

  2. The banjo poems need a much wider readership than even your well-subscribed blog can provide. Do you ever submit stuff for publication? How about a guest-edited qarrtsiluni on the theme ‘Lost In Music’?

    Reply

    1. Oh, Beth and I never submit our own stuff for publication in qarrtsiluni, but if you’re volunteering to edit an issue on music, I think we’d be very interested in that. I’ll email you.

      (Thanks for liking these poems, and in answer to your question, no, I rarely send stuff out.)

      Reply

  3. Handsomely done! I love “What makes it go?” “the smell of rain” and “The gear train.”

    Reply

    1. Thanks. Finding “the smell of rain” took much longer than it should’ve but as soon as I had that image, I pushed the Publish button.

      One peculiarity of this series so far is that in every case, the title has been the first thing I’ve written — the opposite of my usual procedure.

      Reply

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