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