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Two Violins

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One was fire red,   
Hand carved and new—
The local maker pried the wood
From a torn-down church's pew,

The Devil's instrument
Wrenched from the house of God.
It answered merrily and clear
Though my fingering was flawed;

Bright and sharp as a young wine,
They said, but it would mellow,
And that I would grow into it.
The other one was yellow

And nicked down at the chin,
A varnish of Baltic amber,
A one-piece back of tiger maple
And a low, dark timbre.

A century old, they said,
Its sound will never change.
Rich and deep on G and D,
Thin on the upper range,

And how it came from the Old World
Was anybody's guess—
Light as an exile's suitcase,
A belly of emptiness:

That was the one I chose
(Not the one of flame)   
And teachers would turn in their practiced hands
To see whence the sad notes came.

Source: Poetry (June 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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Two Violins

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