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Keith Polette

War & Riff

Cavaquinho by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso

Had he been a rock an’ roller, Tolstoy might have written:  “All happy guitars are alike; each unhappy guitar is unhappy in its own way.”  He would have known that any guitar in the hands of someone like Hendrix or Page or Clapton would have happily been a high-strung stairway to heaven, sounding out riffs and songs that would rival anything that even the Old Testament angels could contrive.   But other guitars, less fortunate, earthbound and moribund, lost and forgotten, whose dreams were snapped like an e-string wound too tight, would each know an unhappiness as unique as a fugitive’s fingerprint.

winter kill
rows of pawned guitars
hanging in silence

Some guitars long for different lives.  The classical guitar wishing it had been born a long-necked bottle filled with wine darker than the darkest blood.  The cheap child’s guitar longing to be a stiletto-healed shoe, stabling the floor with each deliberate step.  The folk guitar, the acoustic one bearing scratches like tiger stripes after having been played too hard, angry as an ostrich fixed and furious with its own flightlessness.   The heavy-bodied electric guitar mourning its past life when it swung as an executioner’s axe.  The hollow-bodied jazz guitar, its sound holes shaped like Dalí’s moustache, whose body was plunged again and again like an oar into the sad waters of Anne Sexton’s “awful rowing” towards oblivion.  The twelve-string guitar wishing it had been rooted in the earth like a grove of bamboo trees, swaying in the wind the way a mother gently rocks her fussing child to sleep.

hole in my chest
the way the wind strums
my ribs


About the writer:
Keith Polette has published myriad poems in both print and online journals, including Sky Island Journal, High Desert Journal, Eunoia Review, Valley Voices, Amethyst Magazine, The Offbeat, Orphic Lute, Otoliths, The Haibun Journal, Frogpond, Presence, Sonic Boom, Blithe Spirit, and Contemporary Haibun Online. His book of haibun, pilgrimage, received the Haiku Society of America’s Merit Book Award in 2021. More of Polette’s work is available under the title War and Riff in the 2022 Pamphlet Series from Buttonhook Press.

Image: Cavaquinho by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso (1887-1918). Oil on canvas. No size specified. Circa 1914-15. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

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