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July 12, 2012

Poem – Homage to Sebastian Stenzel

Here’s something kind of neat – a poem written for a luthier. Bruce Bond wrote this poem in homage to Sebastian Stenzel when he learned that Stenzel was making some guitars with cedar that came from a tree that had died in a fire in the 1930’s. You can see a bit about one of the guitars he made with that wood here. Bruce was moved by the story of the wood and his poem follows.

I should point out that this was not a one-off thing for Bruce. Though an avid guitarist and something of a collector, he is a decorated and published poet. He’s the author of eight published books of poetry, most recently The Visible (LSU, 2012), Peal (Etruscan, 2009), and Blind Rain (Finalist, The Poet’s Prize, LSU, 2008). His tetralogy of new books entitled Choir of the Wells will be released from Etruscan Press in 2013. Presently he is a Regents Professor of English at the University of North Texas and Poetry Editor for American Literary Review.

Homage to Sebastian Stenzel

After the cedar died in the great fire,

it stood for eighty years.  A testament

to what the long neglected can endure

if the roots go deep, the heartwood dense,

grain woven, limbs upholding nothing

like a nervous system of the sky.


No need to clear the lion’s share of damage,

the land the blaze blackened for a season,

though naturally they razed the crumpled home.

What the fire began, men completed,

and there were those who were buried here

and there, and those who never reappeared.


What remained was the flame of soot

that climbed the tower, our useless miracle,

guardian of those who stood in its shadows

and suffered without record, passing through

the stories and nightmares of a few

friends, neighbors, until they too passed on.


Nights, the long and stubborn musculature

swung its axe in the wind, laying low

a silence in the branches, and in the stars

that slept there, that burned for eighty years.

It took a luthier to bring them down,

to see in the tone-wood a slow growth


the winters made stiff and tight, ideal

in its resistance and yield, its open voice.

So yes, he destroyed it, quarter sawn so

the monument might fall again, and again,

over and over as song in the startled

braces of the instrument.  Or so he hoped.


It takes a little faith to flex the final

cut, to tap it listening for some pitch

to draw breath in the unspoken, to say

I am out there somewhere, as music is

in the reticence of things.  It takes

an ember’s patience to plane the wood just so,


to fit it over the casket, over the memory

of one note dying into the next,

into some solitary conversation,

the still bodies of those who listen, those

who, for the moment they are listening,

stand in the fire, made tall, and have no name.



Previously published by Prairie Schooner

and the book Choir of the Wells (Etruscan Press, 2013)

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