My name is Djanga.

I was born in a pinecone on the tallest Sitka spruce, raised by a forest at the edge of the sea. Felled at 580, you might think all those years would blur together. But I remember what went into creating every ring: each hard freeze, spring thaw, drought, windstorm, lightning strike, all the fires. Every rumor of war and revolution settled into my permanent record. I absorbed traces of every animal that ever called me home or fed off me; I recall every beetle larvae, eagle’s nest and grizzly that ever scratched its back on my bark. And somewhere in those 580 years, a soul crystallized into perfection. It took careful cutting and handiwork to release it, for that lucky day at the sawmill was where my life truly began.

The journey from forest to sawmill started with separating me from my roots. I was familiar with men and saws and I’d wondered if someday they would come for me. I knew that after I crashed to the ground all my branches would be stripped, followed by immersion into the sea. I had long desired to feel the embrace of those rippling, frigid waves. I sensed there would be more for me beyond our little family forest. I could smell it. And with that first splash, I tasted it: salt. My grain eagerly soaked up the seasoning. I intuited it would serve me well, wherever this journey took me. All the harvested trees were lashed together into one huge raft and hauled down the coast. I did not yet know I was bound for a mill; at that point I even imagined I might metamorphose into one of those Orcas gliding alongside. But it was not to be. For while I did manage to break away, my family and the Orcas left me behind. I became what they call a sinker.

For 96 years, I rested at the bottom of the sound. When I was thoroughly permeated with the salt of the sea, a once-in-a-hundred-year storm lifted me closer to shore.

Scooped out of the shallows with a forklift payloader, set out to dry, I wondered what could be next? My soul had been sawed, stripped, soaked and salvaged. Something greater awaited me, I was sure of it. In fact, during my entire time in the salty silt as I became the barnacled host of several generations of king crabs, I never once doubted this undefined destiny. As my salinated soul steamed and smiled in the sun, I tightened and toned every sliver of my being, ever ready.

In short order, the same payloader deposited me onto a deck and I awaited my turn to enter the carriage. I saw the trees that had come before were now cut and divided into many symmetrical lengths. There was another tree ahead, pushed forward into a magnificent spinning circle, which sheared off slabs from four sides exposing rings and creating mounds of tree dust. When the circular disk slowed to a stop, I saw many sharp teeth. A man sharpened those teeth with a file.

I welcomed him—-not as executioner, but as surgeon. I desired the paring away of imperfection, for my initial edges to be plumb and smooth. I needed to bare my soul to the world. I leaned into the quarter-inch kerf and did not flinch. The saw man was pleased. He set me aside into a special stack. The salty sea had done what 580 years in the forest could not: turned my body blue, lavender, yellow and burgundy. What’s more, my grain now displayed what they call silk—-little cross-grain windows of strength to ensure no undue torqueing would take place. Why this mattered and for what purpose I was intended, I still wasn’t sure. But the saw man said:

If ever there was a Sitka spruce made of melted star sapphires, why that Sitka spruce would be you.

As I lay resting from my birth in a wooden storage shed, I attempted conversation with some of the other freshly cut wood. No one answered. They were without souls and as inanimate as the gray weathered walls of the shed.

The next day, a kind-eyed man came and took me away. He trembled as he touched me. His hand went straight to the place where my soul was hidden, as if it were a plainly visible knothole. Every sliver aligned towards this man like iron filings to a magnet. I was loaded into a truck and taken to his workshop. The sign on the street said: Luther Djanga—-Guitar Maker.

Guitars everywhere: some being assembled, some repaired, all different shapes and configurations. Some were boxy and hollow, some solid like a shark fin. One of the solid ones called out to me. He said his name was Planck. He asked me my name and, not knowing what else to say, I replied: Djanga.

Planck and the others laughed.

We’re all Djangas, he said.

Luther went to work on me that very day. I was quartered, sanded, fitted and matched. Looking around, I could see what was in store: I would become a celebrated Djanga dreadnought. Over the next several weeks, I was conjoined with exotic companions: a one-piece mahogany neck from the West Indies; rosewood back and sides from the rainforests of Brazil. My bracing was carefully sculpted and scalloped to maximize sound without compromising strength. Around what would become the exclamatory mouth of my sound hole, Luther inlaid marquetry of minute multicolored wood chips giving tender attention to detail. This was followed by a molding of herringbone purfling wherever it could be squeezed in around each edge of my body. Varnish lovingly layered over a period of several days and allowed to dry, sealing my salty soul in a thin, protective, transparent shell. Frets were attached and spaced at precisely expanding mathematical intervals down the length of an ebony fingerboard liberally inlaid with abalone shell.

Finally, the ball ends of bright, bronze-wound strings were threaded over a bone saddle, into an ebony bridge and then secured with whale-bone pins. Up top, loose ends of the strings wound around gold-plated tuners beneath a scrollwork headstock so elaborate it might’ve once served as a figurehead tucked under the bowsprit of a clipper. I felt a delicious tightening; my neck bowing into a delicate arc, strings floating off the fingerboard to where they were neither too high nor too low. Then all six stretched and tuned to a harmonically perfect turn.

The first chord to ever emerge from me was a strummed G. It shattered the silence of the workshop like a small cannon firing shards of crystal into a harp.

All through the night Luther wept as he sang songs from the old country. He couldn’t put me down and I didn’t want him to. When the sun came up, he hung me on the most prominent peg in the workshop. He said I was the greatest of all his guitars.

You are the Djanga!

This pronouncement, along with weeks of exclusive attention, caused Planck and the others to resent me. But I didn’t care. I was Djanga.

I think the reason Luther strummed and fingerpicked me all night was because he knew I wouldn’t be hanging on the wall for very long. Sure enough, the next afternoon a man of great wealth and power came to Luther’s workshop and demanded to see the finest Djanga dreadnought. What could Luther do but show him the Djanga? Of course the gentleman paid handsomely, but he didn’t even strum me—-not once.

He was merely infatuated and acquisitive.

I couldn’t blame him, but I’ll tell you this: a guitar is meant to be played-—well and loud. That’s what we like.

The man’s name was Lars Dinwiddy, a famous oil baron. He remarked on my exquisitely versicolored top. While certain areas of me dazzled—-inlays, marquetry, purfling—-they were the lesser parts compared to my solid Sitka spruce top. That was where my soul resided. Submersion in salt water had produced a spruce top as variegated as Hawaiian Koa. I even looked loud. The last words Luther said, before I was locked away inside a case and transported back to Dinwiddy Manor, were: The guitar never falls very far from the tree.

I had a long time to consider that, for I was not to see the light of day for four years.

Yes, four long years of suffocating darkness.

Lined with plush purple velvet, the guitar case felt like a casket. Even worse, I was shoved into a remote upstairs closet, doubling the intensity of isolation. Sometimes I’d hear a faint voice or footsteps—but it was never my liberator. Not even my 96 years of submersion in the sea were this lonely. At least back then I had enjoyed the company of crabs and salmon; a pelt of anemones; the gently rocking, amniotic bliss of gestation. Mummified in the closet, I feared I might dry up and wither. Fortunately, Luther Djanga had had the forethought to improvise a natural humidifier: an apple punctured with cloves, wrapped it in a handkerchief and hid it inside the case. How I loved that apple.

The guitar never falls very far from the tree.

What did that mean for me?

I tried to see beyond the obvious. But the truth was locked up inside. I longed for release, longed to be played in a robust manner. Memories of my final night with Luther always remained strong and I missed him terribly as one would miss any father. And sometimes my prior life as a tree seemed unreal, like 580 years had never happened. I languished.

One day, the closet doorknob clicked. Someone approached. They tipped over the case and pushed it out across the rug. Latches rattled and suddenly—light! Air! The curvy smile of an eight-year old.

Her name was Demetria. A younger brother, Ezra, could be heard downstairs banging a wooden spoon on pots and pans. A nanny stood in the doorway.

What have you there? she said.

Nanny knew something about playing guitar. She pulled me out of the case and commenced to tuning. How wonderful it felt to be played—even tentatively. She directed Demetria to a nearby piano and ordered her to produce an E note.

The piano secretly announced itself to me, said its name was Calliope.

How do? I replied, through the tedious tuning of E—A—D—G—B and E.

What a gorgeous instrument, said Nanny. I wonder why we’ve never seen it before.

Daddy buys lots of things and hides them away, said Demetria.

And indeed, I now saw that the closet where I’d been stashed contained many other unplayed instruments. This was the Dinwiddy family music room.

Nanny strummed for a while, then handed me to Demetria and taught her some rudimentary chords.

Harder! I thought. Play me LOUD.

But Demetria was a novice. Her untrained fingers lacked the strength to chord for any extended period. Still, it was far better than four years of enforced darkness. I was curious to find out about this house. To prevent Demetria from getting discouraged, I lowered the action of my strings on the fingerboard so as to make chording easier. This I accomplished by arching my neck ever so slightly, something only living guitars with a soul are able to do on their own. I also brought the full force of my wood to bear, endlessly sustaining each note and chord. I desperately wanted Demetria—or anyone—to feel the urge to play me every minute of the day. And the best way to ensure that would be for this Djanga to produce nothing less than ear candy.

It worked. Thereafter, Demetria was never far away. I became her special compulsion as she threw herself into mastering me. She was already quite proficient on Calliope the piano and alternated between us. Soon her little brother Ezra toddled into the picture. He was a caution: always looking for something to destroy. I feared him.

Eventually, Lars and his wife returned from abroad. Lars seemed pleased that Demetria had discovered me, as if he’d planned it that way. But I could tell he’d completely forgotten his Djanga. Had his daughter not opened the closet door that day, I’d probably still be up there atrophying.

Music books were provided and a teacher. In time, Demetria was performing for guests and friends, both on Calliope and myself. I was able to relax my neck somewhat as her fingers lengthened and strengthened—and this was even better, for the lowered action had compromised volume and I so dearly wanted the full force of my soul to be heard. Yet, as loud as Demetria strummed me with her bare fingers, it still wasn’t enough. I longed to be handled with total authority.

I had to be rescued from the clutches of little brother Ezra on more than one occasion. From the moment he started walking upright, he wandered from room to room in search of things to break. As the years wore on, he slowly outgrew his more heinous impulses. He arrived at the age of reason none too soon and acquired a somewhat grudging sense of practicality. More years passed.

When Demetria abandoned me to study piano at the conservatory, Ezra pounced.

I was propped up in the corner of the music room where Demetria had left me. As I tried to console Calliope over Demetria’s departure, sixteen-year old Ezra appeared in the doorway. His hand concealed something. I was worried it might be a knife or a hammer. He always looked angry.

He didn’t know how to chord yet, so he did the only thing he knew how to do: thrash my strings with his right hand. I wailed with shock and pain. He attacked the strings even harder with that stiff little oval in his hand. After he’d satisfied his urges, he wedged the thing into my strings just above the third fret where I could now see it was a tortoiseshell guitar pick. Everyone who’d ever played me up until then had used naked fingers. The brutality with which Ezra played loosened up my grain in unexplored areas, stimulated my soul.

I have to admit: I liked it.

His friends came over. They were all angry like Ezra. My first barre chords came from these boys. Ezra’s technique improved. They also showed him how to arpeggiate individual notes all over my fingerboard, another thing I found pleasurable. They smoked while they played and wedged smoldering cigarette butts in the strings on my headstock, next to the nut. I didn’t like this; the ashes reminded me of ancient fires I’d survived, including the one that had liberated me from my pine cone at the beginning of my existence.

Ezra decorated me with decals that felt like slutty tattoos. This dampened my sound, which I didn’t care for. But Ezra played hard and that made up for it.

That’s it, boy—more!

Sometimes he’d hurt me, break a string. Sometimes his cigarette would burn down and singe. Once, a lick he was trying to master got the better of him and he almost threw me across the room.

One day, Ezra’s friends brought over a guitar with a wire that plugged into a box that plugged into a hole in the wall. It reminded me of Planck. A switch was thrown and the strings came alive. It was louder than I could ever be, but still I couldn’t detect a soul and there was no response when I called out to this paddle with strings.

I’m Djanga, I tried to say over the dissonant din.

This wasn’t unusual; I found many wooden instruments lacked a soul. At the same time, one never knew when an everyday household object made of wood might suddenly start up a conversation. One time, a boy chewed on a toothpick that shyly announced itself to me. There followed a brief, awkward conversation about our futures and what might have been. Of course, Ezra and his friends couldn’t hear any of it and the toothpick was soon discarded.

The electric guitar got its magic from the hole in the wall. The strings were thin and action absurdly low. For Ezra, playing this thing was like lifting a pebble instead of a boulder. He became drunk with the power of playing fast. They referred to it as an axe—and indeed, it was meant to cut me down.

Ezra took me to a pawnshop. The pawnbroker had never heard of a Djanga. I was still covered with clownish decals, but sounded nice and played easily enough so he allowed Ezra to trade me for the electric kind.

Over a period of several months I was bought, hocked, re-bought, re-hocked... The owners ranged from dilettantes to drug addicts. None of them played with any force or passion. Then came the day that changed my life forever: I was hanging in the pawnshop, having an imaginary conversation with a plywood potato-bug mandolin that was more decoration than instrument, when a vagrant wandered into the store. His name was Gyp. He carried a battered guitar case. The pawnbroker seemed to know him.

Get out of here, you, he said. You smell bad and don’t have any money.

I got money, said Gyp. And I want to see that guitar hanging in the window.

He pointed at me. The pawnbroker reluctantly handed me to Gyp.

Don’t dirty it up.

I thrilled from the second Gyp grasped my neck. His fingers were massive and strong. The calluses on the left hand told me he was a seasoned player. His strum was expert and authoritative. Gyp had a beard, smelled like the earth. His hair was long like wild grass; eyes black as a pair of snake holes: deep—like there was no telling what was in there.

Djanga, he read the headstock, as if addressing me by name.


Gyp smiled as if he’d heard me.

He and the pawnbroker haggled and ultimately arrived at an acceptable arrangement: Gyp’s old guitar and some cash in exchange for my freedom. I was taken back to Gyp’s room in a fleabag flophouse down by the water. I couldn’t wait to be played by this man.

He removed me from the case and laid me out on his cot.

I knew Luther Djanga, he said. He made some very fine guitars.

I had not heard Luther’s name in years. Gyp added:

May he rest in peace.

While Gyp gently soaked the decals from my body with a damp cloth, I lay there in shock trying to come to terms with the fact that my creator, my father, was no longer alive. I’d heard what happened to people when they passed out of this life. What happened to guitars when they passed? Gyp polished my wood, massaged linseed oil into my ebony fingerboard and bridge. He brightened up my tarnished tuners.

Gyp was preserving and preparing me. He had plans for his Djanga.

I’m your new best friend, he whispered when every last trace of Ezra was gone.

Gyp strung me with heavy-gauge strings and tuned me up.

The first strum was rapturous.

I became a real guitar in the hands of this man. Gyp was a street musician, a busker by trade. It was his job to know as many songs as possible and to sing and play them loud. Sometimes we’d go for days without repeating the same song. He followed the weather like a bird—south for winter, north in spring. For over 30 years we wandered up and down the coast. Sometimes he’d get a wild hair and dash off to the other side of the continent, as if to musically balance the land. We played subways and streets with equal ease.

One year, Gyp signed on to a freighter and we played all the busking capitals of Europe. Gyp kept to the port cities, it was where he felt most comfortable. I loved the proximity of the salt water that had given so much to my soul. He hitched rides with truckers, stowed away on trains and walked. Lots of walking. The roar of heavy-gauge strings shook out every last bit of tension in my wood. Each grain became kinetic yet crisp. The little windows in my spruce top filtered every note, neutralizing all disharmony. Sometimes a honeybee would fly into my soundhole and hang transfixed by the sustained sweetness of my notes. Gyp would find the dried husk weeks later, a smile on the dead bee’s face.

While the circumstances of Gyp’s existence occasionally veered into dire poverty, he always made sure I was kept from harm. This included weather extremes, which can kill a fine guitar. Even when Gyp had to sleep outside in the winter, it was I who merited the safety of the heating grate. Drinking whiskey was an occupational necessity at times like these, for Gyp needed the antifreeze. Under such conditions, it was easy for Gyp to overindulge and nurse a capricious dependence upon the rye.

A woman of great substance and beauty stopped to hear Gyp one day. Gyp was thriving that spring: sober, pulling in regular money, bathing daily and wearing new clothes. He aimed me at the woman, selected songs that would cause my soul to resonate with her heartstrings. When the crowd fell away, she was still there and invited us back to her brownstone.

She fed him, sent the maid and cook home early and took Gyp to her bed. We lived there for over a month, I was sure I was going to lose Gyp. But in the end we quietly slipped away one morning before the sun came up. There were other women, but they were desperate types one finds living in the street.

Gyp was very clear about his life choices.

I’ve lived a life in music. I’ve lived for music, he’d say. When you give yourself to something like that, it’s a service to mankind. I know there are some who might think me selfish—but I’m just giving of myself. There are some who might say I took the easy way out. But believe me, it hasn’t been easy. Not by a long shot. Long ago, I abandoned any delusions of fame. I don’t begrudge others their success, but that’s not why I do this. This world and I, we don’t owe each other anything.

People would try to steal the money Gyp collected in his guitar case while he sang. Or they’d try to steal me and out would come Gyp’s knife. He was vigilant and quick, but as time wore on his reflexes slowed. After several decades on the fly, we had a run of bad luck that found us stranded up north, feverishly trying to raise enough money for a warm room. It was raining and cold. Gyp had been playing all day in the square but the economy was bad. He had no food, whiskey or money. What little we’d made was sitting in the guitar case. Gyp’s lungs were so full of sickness his voice could scarcely be heard over my big, booming beat. During an extended coughing fit, someone ran off with every last dime we’d made. Devastated, he packed me up and said it was time we headed south.

For a long time, Gyp had been having problems with his fingers: arthritis. All the years of playing out in the raw elements had taken a toll. We were sitting in the bus station, Gyp trying to attract a crowd. He’d long lost the ability to play barre chords, now it was just simple first position triads. He hugged me and wept. I knew what was coming.

I’m sorry, Djanga, he sobbed.

People looked at him the way I’d seen Gyp look at down-on-their-luck characters years before. Now it was Gyp’s turn to live in extremis. Gyp carried me through the deluge to a pawnshop and got what little money he could in exchange for his dear Djanga. He gave me one last embrace, tears and raindrops from his beard commingling in a final, bittersweet, salty kiss.

He said he’d come back for me. But I never saw him again. I’d lost my true north.

Now a funny thing happened: I’d expected to languish in the pawnshop window for weeks and months, if not years. But within a few days a man passing by looked up and stood shock still. I thought: Do I know you? Turns out I did not, but he knew of me. Djanga had registered instantly with him in a cryptic, profound way. He snatched me up, didn’t even haggle with the pawnbroker.

He was not a player, much to my great disappointment. For someone to seize me with such zeal, I’d expect to get something out of it. It’d been years since Gyp had played me with any measure of power. And as much as I missed old Gyp, I was still very playable. I had a lot to give, just needed someone to take it. The man took me home to his modest house. One of those ticky-tacky boxes you see in clusters not far from the cities, each one indistinguishable from the other. He got on the telephone and started making calls. He confirmed information about me. Visitors began to arrive, some from far away, to gawk. A news reporter came and took my picture. Apparently, I’d acquired some kind of rare pedigree and my value was now incalculable. Long-lost Djanga Discovered in Pawn Shop said the headline. But still, no one would play me—at least not properly. There were respectful, tentative strums, some wistful fingerpicking, but no one really seemed to want to hear.

An auction was arranged. I wish Luther Djanga had been alive to witness it. The bidding escalated until it came down to just two, a man against a woman. Every time the woman made a bid, the man topped it. Finally, the woman capitulated and the man came forward to claim me. It was then that I saw the woman was Demetria and the man, Ezra.

Demetria had done well for herself: a career as a concert pianist and the inheritance of the Dinwiddy oil fortune. But her resources were no match for Ezra—he had his own inheritance as well as rock ‘n roll money. He’d become one of the most famous electric guitar players in the world. Even there at the auction, he was trailed by a coterie of handlers and sycophants. Ezra’s hair was spiky like a porcupine’s and his body sported strange piercings of metal. He looked like a walking torture chamber.

Why wouldn’t you let me have her? cried Demetria. You don’t even play this kind of guitar!

It’s a Djanga, said Ezra. As you’ll recall I used to have one just like it.

We used to have one, said Demetria. Until you hocked it.

It never occurred to either of them that I might be the exact same Djanga from those halcyon days at Dinwiddy Manor. Granted, the last time Ezra saw me I was still wearing those ridiculous decals and since then many years had passed. Now Ezra was the one with decals—his entire body covered in tattoos. But still, you’d think he’d remember. Sadly, I realized Ezra had no intention of playing me. I was merely a trophy. He frowned.

The first thing I need to do is put on some lighter-gauge strings.

I was proudly displayed with all the other guitars in Ezra’s collection. Hundreds of them; most were electric and had souls, so there was no shortage of conversation. In fact, I was set in a glass case next to Planck, the solidbody electric I’d first met at my conception in Luther Djanga’s workshop. It seemed that Planck and myself were the only two surviving Djangas in the world. Had it really been that many years? Had Luther really only crafted such a small number of instruments?

He was a perfectionist, Planck reminded me.

Planck had mellowed with age. He seemed to realize his abilities depended on circuitry and hardware. Ezra had only acquired Planck because he was a Djanga. There were plenty of other electrics Ezra preferred to play. I wasn’t the only acoustic in the collection, but I was the most prized. For months, I endured the neglect of not being played. Sometimes Ezra would plug in an electric and rattle the walls and I’d settle for the vicarious stimulation of secondhand sound waves.

Hans was the estate caretaker; an old lumberjack and jack-of-all-trades who’d spent years supervising oil fields for Lars Dinwiddy. I remembered him. He’d visited the manor once, attended one of Demetria’s recitals. Ezra entertained an eccentric attachment to the institutions of his youth and when he needed a caretaker for his 300-acre estate he’d coaxed Hans out of retirement. Ezra regularly abused and humiliated his employees, but always stopped short with Hans out of either fear or respect.

One night I was awakened by the sound of my glass case being opened. The lights were off—was I being stolen? Oh please, I prayed. Let it be true! I was lifted out of the case by capable yet unfamiliar fingers. Hans sat down in the dark and tuned me.

I’ve waited a long time to play you, Djanga.

It seems Hans had coveted me ever since Demetria’s recitals and could play reasonably well. He knew I was the same Djanga. The guitar collection was far enough away from the main house that there was no danger of being heard.

At first, Hans was overly timid in attack. After a while he couldn’t hold back anymore and tore into a thunderous G chord. Then he tuned me to an open-D. I was ecstatic. He pulled out an old shot glass and used it as a slide. I’d never experienced this way of being played. Like a cat being stroked, I arched myself ever so slightly, raising the strings high enough to prevent fret rattle. One of Ezra’s prized guitars was an old steel-bodied resophonic guitar—something every rock ‘n roller is supposed to have, apparently, and I copied that resophonic’s posture. Ezra sometimes played blues on it, affecting a rather comic imitation of an old black man.

But there was no such pretense in Hans’s approach. He played authentically and hard until dawn, then quietly re-tuned to standard and put me away. I slept contentedly all through the day. The next night Hans returned, and every night after that. We were into a romantic rhythm that couldn’t be denied.

Unlike Demetria, Ezra had never taken a spouse nor had any children. There was a revolving door of worshipful women running in and out of his life. I know this because every time a new flame visited, one of the first stops on Ezra’s self-aggrandizing tour was the guitar collection. He’d pick up an electric and blast out one of his signature hits and the girl would predictably fawn. Lustful, shameless scenes played out before our very eyes. One lady had Ezra positioned behind her while he, guitar in hand, indulged specific musical requests.

Planck wasn’t jealous. He couldn’t care less if Ezra played him. He too had passed through a succession of colorful owners, from wildly proficient to complete amateurs. It was hard for him to make any distinctions; all he could really feel were subtle variations of voltage. Nor could he recall anything about his life as a tree. Planck reminded me of Gyp when his brain became addled with whiskey. He said that after I left the workshop, Luther never stopped talking about me. He regretted having sold the Djanga so soon. Planck and I had pleasurable conversations where we’d reminisce and embellish. I hadn’t felt this close to a fellow instrument since Calliope the piano.

One day Ezra entered in a foul mood. A visiting lady friend had abruptly packed her things and left. She was an exceptional woman, a step up from the others. But she was a little on the young side, even for Ezra. He wasn’t aging gracefully. Despite his years, there was no seasoning: bare patch of skin on top of his head steadily doubling in size, soft around the midsection. His tattoos were starting to blur, like Sunday funny papers left out in the rain.

He threw himself into playing his electric at full volume then seemed to change his mind. His attention turned to me. There was something in his eyes, the old anger.

He opened the glass case and yanked me out.

Been a long time since I played me one of these.

Some of Ezra’s electric guitars were merely cadavers. He often destroyed guitars onstage as part of his act. Dropping, smashing, burning—rock ‘n roll theater. They were not displayed with the others; rather, he stored them in a separate room which Planck called The Morgue.

The Morgue weighed heavily on my mind as Ezra gave me a hearty, open-string strum. Then he attempted a barred A on the fifth fret. He stopped. His hands were weak and fingertips soft. He tried yet again but I’d bowed up my neck to accommodate trysting with Hans and even with light gauge strings I was virtually unplayable for Ezra. The last thing he tried was a pentatonic scale at the octave—

I don’t remember hitting the wall. I do remember flying through the air, but the impact and initial minutes on the ground are thankfully erased from memory. I came to with an image of Ezra’s arms pinned behind him by Hans, Ezra’s boot poised to finish me off.

Stop it, boy! said Hans.

Ezra cursed me as Hans pushed him aside and knelt.

My neck was intact, but my body had sustained significant damage. There was a hole in my rosewood back and I could feel a couple of braces rattling around inside. I was in great pain, my Sitka spruce top heavily cracked.

She’s ruined, said Hans.

I was still playable but my collectability gone. I would never recover my original value.

Remove it from my sight, Ezra sneered.

He stormed out like a petulant child.

Hans gathered me up, including every splinter.

I moaned farewell to Planck on my way out.

Rushing back to his caretaker’s cottage, Hans said, I’ll fix you, Djanga.

And he did just that. Using glue, dental mirrors and braces, he surgically reconstructed my interior, mended my top. Then he repaired the hole in my back to where it simply looked like a finish crack. Instead of returning me to the glass display case, however, Hans packed me up with all his belongings and drove north just as the leaves were beginning to turn.

Hans had a family cabin near the shore, not far from where I grew up.

He loaded in provisions and we sat on the cedar porch swing, watching leaves drop and winter come on. He felled a couple of hemlocks with a chain saw and divvied them into firewood, which he then split with an axe and stacked in record time. He was an old lumberjack, after all. When it became too cold to sit outside, we spent hours together in front of the fireplace. Like Gyp, Hans knew thousands of songs and played them over and over, sometimes falling asleep with me in his arms. I never fully recovered from Ezra’s cruelty. The soul spirits of trees set free by fireplace flames would sometimes enter me and perform a little aerial ballet before rushing back out my sound hole and up the chimney, into the cracking cold, where they contributed shimmering shadings to the aurora borealis and pondered their next incarnation.

One day Hans didn’t wake up. His old lumberjack friends found him frozen and still, his Djanga locked in the eternal embrace of rigor mortis. It just seemed natural to bury us together.

Now I lie here at rest in a stand of Spruce trees, ten billion songs still beating in me. The lumberjack molders, I dream of decay. We live one large life made up of many shorter existences. As I give back the salt one grain at a time, I see the crystals are square and there is a design to things far beyond what I can comprehend. Salt: essential to all animals, toxic to most plants. Yet it gave me everything.

Someone once called Gyp the salt of the earth. It’s not just the salt, I know, but that’s the common element. Roman soldiers were paid with it. I know this because I belong to the ages. Lot’s wife looked back when she wasn’t supposed to. I am required to look forward, to shed the encumbrances of this world. If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear, does it make a noise? This one did. When those roots breach the pine coffin, I’ll proclaim: I lived a life in music. As the Sitkas reclaim me, I’ll confess what I know and try to preserve what matters.

Luther Djanga was right: The guitar never really does fall very far from the tree.


"A Life In Music" - Companion Song:

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