A Black Martin Guitar


The only thing notable about my guitar, which is named Martin, and which conveniently happens to be of Martin manufacturing, is that it is one of a very few of its kind whose base color is entirely, unequivocally, black. The body and the fret-board absorb light, and, with the exception of when it is being played, they hoard it greedily, as if every ray was the last ray of light that was ever going to fall on it and there simply wasn’t enough to go around. It is a beautiful instrument, unique in its own brutal simplicity and starkness; as it stands, propped up against the guest bed and surrounded by a sea of papers, albums, and books, it looks almost contented, which I suppose is because it expects to be tuned and strummed by an obscure, 5th rate musician later this evening. But for now it sits upright with evening’s cool breath wafting over it; and it swallows light.

Mind you, it is not always on the take, because a startling, yet not wholly unexpected thing happens in the hands of its master; when played, the guitar will seem to glow as it fills with the sound, and instead of drowning the light cast upon it, it returns it to the world with open hands. People who see my guitar when I am playing it remark that it is unique and lovely; when they see it propped in the corner they get the feeling that it’s sneaking away to do something illicit. Obviously I relate well to my guitar, or rather, it relates well to me; for a guitar is nothing more than the hands that hold it, and it doesn’t have to the ability to think for itself (at least, not that I’m aware of, though I wouldn’t be too surprised). It seems to have an advantage on me in this regard; for while I stubbornly reject my Master when called upon to play, Martin doesn’t have much of a say in the matter. If I want to perform a minor surgery on my guitar and am forced to use pliers and oaths to rend broken, decrepit strings from it, there is no weeping and gnashing of teeth; there is merely compliance, if not often reluctant. I define my guitar, with all my flaws, and short fingers, and weak hands that keep me from forming difficult chords, and it is accepting of that–it has no choice. And yet people, when placed in the hands of their Master–with hands perfectly suited to produce majesty and beauty from within an exquisitely crafted lump of dust–they wriggle and squirm and jump about in a whole-hearted attempt to escape. Should I ever pick up my guitar, only to have it twist about and bite my hand and then make a bolt for the door, I suppose I couldn’t blame it, but I would still grab it around the neck and dash it to pieces against the coffee table.

The better the musician, the more right there is to check the disobedience of the instrument, and yet there is a perfect Musician, who directs the orchestra of sparrows outside of my window and the sound of a boot crunching through frozen snow on its way to the hearth, and we are disagreeable. It is not our role to be disagreeable, and we have a poorly refined capacity for it to begin with; we are supposed to be instruments. When Timothy says, “those who cleanse themselves… will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master” there is an implication that they are gloriously useful and magnificent in nature, but only in the hands of a glorious and magnificent Master.

I suppose too, that in the divine knowledge of my guitar, it allows itself to be played because it that is why it was made; to be filled full of melody and tune, discordant notes mystically blending together and ringing through its very soul. If one reflected upon my guitar, they should be surprised that it must be empty before it can be filled, for that does not make sense by the means of our world. The businessman should say that it must be filled with money and precious metals, for then it can be secure and stable and prosperous; the philosopher would say it should be filled with books, and then it can be learned and discern the truth of life; the cynic and the sarcastic would suggest never playing at all. Filled with its money and books, stability and security, and just a touch of cryptic bitterness, my guitar could be comfortable and learned. But it would not be a guitar anymore, for it could no longer makes children’s mouth wrinkle upward in pleasure, or sing the praises of the Kansas plains; it would be a dusty trunk, ill-equipped to hold its perishable cargo. My guitar’s soul would be stuffed to the brim and no longer would it thrum and vibrate with the ecstasy and revelation of its existence in the hands of its master. The key to its existence necessitates an emptying, such as it was empty at the point of its creation; to sing the songs of the Divine soul, my guitar must become like a little child and be cleansed of all but itself, in the hands of its master. If it had the capacity to, I’m sure Martin could make plenty of arguments against this emptying; it could ask about the future and bring up the fact that it has children on the way, that they are being hewn from rough timber by the same creator who made itself. It could plead: what happens if the master goes away and I am left all alone; how will I support myself? It could justify that with all its books and papers, it is the most knowledgeable and intelligent guitar of its class.

But it would still not make music, and music was what it was made for.

If I was the guitar, I’m sure I would object to this; I would flinch and squirm and twist as I’m tuned to be in line with my Master’s ear. It’s an uncomfortable process, with cracking strings and tension curving my neck endlessly (guitar’s necks must necessarily be curved, or strings won’t lay straight, yet I still often think that I could be the exception to that rule). I suppose that I would like to slip out of tune and would disdain it when my Master’s hands reapplied the pressure necessary to correct my laziness or account for the change in humidity. And that’s just minor correction; if it came to being shipped, or put in a case for a time, or used as a means to show grace: well! then I would feel downright surly.

But my guitar is the better in that aspect; it meekly takes its correction with the resistance only inherent to its nature, and because it does, I can make music. Should my guitar ever decide to quit its existence, and finally succumb to old age and mildew, use and strain, I will be greatly saddened; not so much for myself, but for the fact that my faithful servant can no longer sing and hum with the sheer, brutal pleasure of existence. But I will hold it in my heart and remember it for what it was; an instrument that could speak in words that my soul could understand; a wonderfully crafted dead piece of wood.



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