On "Violin"

Valerie Wohlfeld


I am like the violin no one plays. In the attic
the wood grain’s varnish and veneer
lie with the other mistakes: the batik
banner, the beetle-eaten head of the mounted deer,

the stained cashmere sweater, and the odd love letter
not set on fire. Once you cradled the hourglass
figure, tucked-in your chin and fingered the strings and frets.
The embossed pebbled leather case with brass

hinges is lost; once you carried it back and forth
on the subway and played in the underground stations.
You rode from south to north, your music’s worth
of coins thrown into the open case. The attic sun

and the unsung music cannot startle the dust and decay.
I am like the violin no one plays.

This is a poem of loss and abandonment. The desuetude of the violin is a reflection of the emotional make-up of the speaker in the poem—there is dust on the heart as well as on the violin. Even the forsaken violin has itself been abandoned by its own missing carrying case. The attic, where the violin and the other items listed in the poem rest, is a forgotten and neglected area of the house and not on a par with the other rooms. Not heated, not air-cooled, this is the place of last exodus before a possession leaves the house to be sold, bartered, given to charity, or put out at the curb for trash collection.

The destruction of my marriage played out for a very long time before it was actually over and casualties and loneliness accrued. Some marriages explode like the Big Bang, and the partners race apart from each other at greater and greater velocities; other marriages implode, and the couple finds themselves in a black hole where they are trapped together by gravitational forces, unable to break free of one another or of their dying universe. My situation was akin to the latter scenario. Other marriages come apart with hardly a (public) ripple as in the “conscious uncoupling” of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and rock star Chris Martin. In my case we needed something like “unconscious uncoupling”: like a pair of conjoined twins put under very heavy sedation, a team of doctors would need to work on our surgery for about twenty hours to sever us. Afterwards, he would get the spleen and I would get the heart.

I wrote my poem “Violin” to give voice to a very melancholic period of time in my life. This is not the exuberant paean to the violin found in many of Marc Chagall’s paintings, with their green-faced musicians or with goats portrayed as violinists in beautiful bursts of bright colors. The mood of my poem is closer to the “Old Guitarist” by Pablo Picasso from his blue period. Identity of object and speaker merge in my poem; as Wallace Stevens writes, in his poem titled “The Man with the Blue Guitar”: “Tom-tom, c’est moi. The blue guitar/ And I are one.”

Valerie Wohlfeld

Valerie Wohlfeld’s most recent book of poetry is Woman with Wing Removed (Truman State University Press, 2010). Her first collection, Thinking the World Visible, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize (Yale University Press, 1994). Publication of her work includes the New Yorker, Hopkins Review, Yale Review, Antioch Review, Poetry Review (UK), Ploughshares, Poetry, New Criterion, New England Review, Cincinnati Review, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Her poems have been nominated six times for a Pushcart Prize. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Illustration by Matt Manley. Matt has been working as a freelance illustrator for over twenty years. His illustration is primarily figurative and symbolic with surrealist leanings, and past client work includes editorial, corporate, medical, book, and higher education. Though in the end his work is technically digital collage, the process integrates both traditional and digital media. Collage elements are original oil paintings and drawings, with occasional scanned found objects and photos added to the mix, all united in Photoshop .