In Tune with the Pandemic

When tuning my acoustic guitar,

the oxidized strings having gone

flat in the warm humid air,

the wire being wound to perfect

tension sometimes releases an

almost imperceptible chiming,

a tiny push of air outward,

the string immediately retreating

to form a momentary vacuum,

vibrating faster or slower subject

to the energy expended,

but rising to frequency.

The child in me believes

this spontaneous harmonic

relief is a sympathetic response

to the strings already in timbre,

like voices in a street choir

soaring to a single ethereal note

that might make you weep.

But this is not the case. The string

has merely snagged in the bridge

pin slot or has failed to slide easily

over the nut at the top of the fretboard,

a mechanical glitch that can be

remedied by applying a touch

of graphite from a no. 2 pencil.

So simple. So obvious.

Still I listen for the ping, hold my

breath in expectancy, believing

that believing is as essential

as complete understanding,

that when coaxed to proper pitch

the string will sing out with joy

as the tuner’s circular gear tugs 

perpendicular to the worm gear’s

rotation, the mechanical workings

there to remind me that given enough

time the delicate wire will break

sharply and never ring true again.

— Stephen E. Smith

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