Cassandra Cleghorn

Five Lessons
by Cassandra Cleghorn

I. Box

Ficelle of steel

cigar box barrel

stave pernambuco

river shipped

Belly gauged for ear softer wood

whose fibers give, back for eye

flames mounting toward button of neck

its backward slant

Compare Bergonzi’s f-hole

to that of Gasparo da Salo

[Go ahead, laugh]

how each seems about

to fall forward seahorses

flanking the belly’s arch

itself shadowed by the bridge

spotted maple

with feet ears heart

Grab its shoulder

as a father his son’s

It will take years of daily playing

before the instrument begins to speak properly

before sound moves through

as sap once did


II. Gut

1922 Chicago, Armour Factory

Men work quickly over steaming tables scraping

pencil thin lengths of sheep intestine

to be soaked in cold then tepid water

scraped again with the split and beveled briar cane

steeped further scraped

steeped again in the next room

workers wear rubber gloves ring on index

copper thimble on thumb

taking one membrane from the stone jar on his left

each man worries it as his mother her rosary

places it in the jar to his right

every few hours jar to jar

solution by solution the thing reduced

to cleanest shred then

the sorting splitting with the narrow soutil

stringing on frames twisting bleaching with smoke

of sulfur freshening on the rooftop

above the city’s shambles

torsion more torsion—Does someone sigh?

arms outstretched finish men grip

the lines of gut cushion of horsehair

in each hand they pace the aisles of looms

All asperities shall be removed

placed now in folds of soft cloth

wiped with olive oil

and powdered glass or pumice

dried seasoned cut

graded coiled

into the lovely

paper envelopes


III. Gum

Knob of sound

rosin resin distillate
of Venetian terebrinth


citron lozenge
friction powder

wrapped in flannel


IV. Stick

Muscle memory,
fretless–each tone
a slowed-down finding

Ribbon of rounded hairs
bound with waxed silk
thrust into wedge box of nut.

Don’t worry about the sound,
he said Moving from wrong
to right must entail discomfort

Heat increased, screws
tightened, mother of pearl slid
into its groove.

Down-bow, of course, has advantage
but up-bow plays into weight of hand
and arm

The movement forward sits in
the lap of the attack

That gesture—

like threading something into something


V. Provenance

Bow’s flash and cloud
infinite cabinet

amber washes
dragon blood saffron sweat-

stripped swath where first his
then my palm homes

Eye, ear,
my chest, a resonator

I thumb the chain of reprises,

each of the six dusts

When they settle
they stick they worry
they sound


Notes: Lines quoted from F. M. Alexander, The Use of the Self (1932) and William Pleeth Cello (1982).


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 1.

Cassandra CleghornCassandra Cleghorn’s first book, Four Weathercocks, is forthcoming from Marick Press in March 2016. Her poems have appeared in many journals including The Paris Review, Yale Review, New Orleans Review, Poetry International and Narrative. She lives in northwestern Massachusetts where she teaches at Williams College and serves as associate editor of Tupelo Press.

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