A Natural History: Alicia Jo Rabins16/12/2009
A NATURAL HISTORY OF MY INSTRUMENT
Text and music by Alicia Jo Rabins
I. THE FIRST TIME I SAW IT
I was thirteen: pink blemish like a stain on the sheet of my neck.
That was the year I realized I could transmute myself into waves of sound and, through my body, project myself far beyond my body. Practicing to free myself. I knew I was lucky, like a happy young nun.
The strings, the scroll, the nut, the frog, the tip, the F-holes, the purfling, the bridge, the soundpost, the chinrest. From far away it looks handsome, proportional.
Seen from under your chin, it’s too close to focus. The four strings blend and merge to converge in an impossible point past the scroll. The riddle of the eyes can give you a headache. Best to close them and feel the vibrations travel through your collarbone. Your fingertips’ soft pads on the wound metal strings.
III. ROUGH RED MARK BELOW HER LEFT JAW CORNER
– not the red of blood leaking beneath the skin, but of skin itself rubbed raw – you’re probably looking at a violinist.
Well, she could be a violist.
IV. I NEVER SAW THOSE DEER
I knew no one on the entire continent.
Mornings in beginner Hebrew class on Mount Carmel, afternoons in the Baha’i temple, nights staring into the bonfire outside the Christian hostel. I’d gone there to understand what it meant that I was a Jew. Strange.
One day Ian surprised me at lunch; he was backpacking through the Middle East and decided to find me. I finished my tuna sandwich and took him out to the clearing in the woods behind the university where I went to play violin between classes. He left the next day, and I was alone again.
Two years later, Filip told me about the deer. Ian said he’d watched them emerge from forest as I tuned my violin. They stood around us in a circle as I played with my eyes closed.
Rabbi Yochanan said: Happy is he who has never set eyes upon his parents. [Because it is impossible to honor them adequately– Rashi]
You told me you hadn’t wanted children, weren’t sure you’d know how to raise them, with your mother the way she was. Then you and Dad had three girls, and you stayed home with us and loved us and knew exactly what to do. You took us running around the track; we hugged your calves. I remember the smell of your sweat. You saw a Phil Donahue special on the Suzuki method. You thought it looked good for children. You rented-to-own a series of tiny violins. We ended up owning all of them. I’ll never be able to thank you. This is a beginning.
Alicia Jo Rabins has played her violin on board schooners in three bodies of water: Baltimore Harbor, New York Harbor, and the Caribbean Sea.
“A Natural History of My Instrument” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>
Alicia Jo Rabins is a poet, violinist and songwriter based in Brooklyn, NY. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Court Green, 6 x 6, and Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn. Girls in Trouble, her art-pop song cycle about obscure stories of women from the Old Testament, was released in October 2009 on Jdub Records.