Guitars by Michael Thomas Martin
published in Volume 9, Issue 5 on December 6th, 2002
"O weapon that gives life instead of death!"
- Paul Valéry
My first guitar was salvaged from the trash
by Dwayne Brinkenhoff, a sallow kid
with large, gapped teeth and blonde
eyelashes that made him look like a pig;
the kind of kid who invited guys to watch his
eight-year-old sister spread her legs
in the operating theatre of his bedroom.
He wanted eight bucks for the guitar
but my father wouldn't give it to me.
I borrowed five from Graham
and three from Louie's mom.
The instrument was covered in black paint,
thick as Alice Cooper's mascara.
Chrome pick guard, three pickups.
I stripped the black paint from the guitar.
Spongy rolls of darkness peeled from the body
like skin from a molting lizard.
I sanded and polyurethaned the wood,
rubbed the fret board with steel wool,
replaced a busted machine head and bought a pick.
An old G-Ball named Don Bardon gave me
some old strings, showed me how to wrap the wires
around the machine heads and hold them in tune.
He put strips of masking tape across the frets,
marked them with the hieroglyphs of notes.
I copied a chord chart by hand and started
learning the names and positions of C, G and D,
the dark magnificence of E minor.
I carried my guitar on my bike
in a black plastic garbage bag,
the only case I could afford.
Louie got a hold of a Sears bass.
We'd plug into the same amp
and, with Graham on drums, play
"Louie, Louie" till our fingers bled,
unaware of the monophonic note of irony.
In between alcoholic seizures
my dad made me a case,
a wooden box stained mahogany
and varnished to a glossy sheen.
Corners and latches of brass.
Hard, black-rubber handles.
Inside was all burgundy velvet and foam.
My guitar lay in it like a corpse.
I practiced ten hours a day
and started flunking out of school,
compromising my perfect C- average.
Nothing mattered but getting
all of Chuck Berry's licks down -
that was grammar,
copping Eric Clapton -
that was art,
getting next to Brother Wayne Kramer's mojo -
that was phys ed.
Fuck everybody else.
Louie and I were arguing
about whether Peter Frampton
or Ted Nugent was a better guitar player.
We couldn't be sure, but agreed that the Nuge
could easily kick the ass of the pretty Englishman.
My sister called crying in the middle of our discussion:
there was blood on the floor of the basement,
a spattered trail leading to where dad was sleeping in my room.
He lay next to my guitar, the dull light barely reflecting
from the mirrored surface of the pick guard.
I turned on the light, flipped the old man over.
Blood swamped my bed from his wrists
and I tried to tie tube socks around his shallow wounds.
They were sad tourniquets.
Fuck the Boy Scouts.
When our neighbor Mr. Riley showed up to help
I knocked the screen door off its hinges and ran.
We couldn't afford a new mattress.
We flipped it over and I slept on the clean side.
Three months later I sold the guitar and its case
to some fat kid at school for thirty bucks.
Then I bought a Telecaster from a junky,
my uncle Kevin, for a hundred and fifty.
He taught me how to play like Jeff Beck,
unlocked the secrets of playing slide with a thimble.
Twenty years later, when he died giving a blowjob to a .22,
I inherited his estate, a Ventura six-string acoustic
with light action and a heavy tone.