Iowa Writes

JENNIFER ROSNER
The New Violin


            When Shira plays the violin that night, those who usually chatter and dance around the bonfire go quiet. The sound is magnificent, rich and full, carrying in each swelling note a meaning, a message, a full-blown story. Is it Shira's story? Is it the violin's?  Perhaps it is all of their stories, the stories of those who have wandered from the beginning of time, who have not yet settled even as they toil in this land, even as they root this earth with trees and gardens. 
            With her little school violin, Shira's individual heart could be laid out in notes aquiver with a clarified beauty.  Its sound was itself the sound of searching—each extended, vibrating note poised as if at a forked path, only one road to be taken, no signs leading the way; rushing forth to ransack the barn, to heave hay bales aside as rabbits scampered to the safe corners and tools flew from the loft; seeking out her mother, as if, by chance, she was still lying upon the floorboards; scouring and scanning every town and wood, every camp, every station, every compartment of every train; breaking every silence that each of them withstood, from mother's birth cry to daughter's last yowl.

            When Shira plays the violin that night, those who usually chatter and dance around the bonfire go quiet. The sound is magnificent, rich and full, carrying in each swelling note a meaning, a message, a full-blown story. Is it Shira's story? Is it the violin's?  Perhaps it is all of their stories, the stories of those who have wandered from the beginning of time, who have not yet settled even as they toil in this land, even as they root this earth with trees and gardens. 
            With her little school violin, Shira's individual heart could be laid out in notes aquiver with a clarified beauty.  Its sound was itself the sound of searching—each extended, vibrating note poised as if at a forked path, only one road to be taken, no signs leading the way; rushing forth to ransack the barn, to heave hay bales aside as rabbits scampered to the safe corners and tools flew from the loft; seeking out her mother, as if, by chance, she was still lying upon the floorboards; scouring and scanning every town and wood, every camp, every station, every compartment of every train; breaking every silence that each of them withstood, from mother's birth cry to daughter's last yowl. 
            Yet, playing her new instrument, Shira captures the collective longing of all who came before her and all who will go on, long after.  There are scores to tell and the listeners hold their breath, lest their exhales interfere with the telling.  Where did the violin come from? who played it before her?, they wonder along with her, as stretches of long-ago time—years, days, minutes—once filled with the richness of family and friends, meaningful work, love and laughter, are in memory stripped and rendered unrecognizable by fear, hunger, loneliness and unbearable loss. They dare not move, as the violin's sound narrates the truths that still reside in their bodies, the tightness in their chests, the constriction in their bellies, when hunched, huddled, hidden, hunted, they didn't risk the release of a breath or allow their bellies to slacken, though later they would gulp and gasp for life-giving air. 
            When eventually the dancing resumes, Yotam grabs Shira's free hand and pulls her into the circle.  She still holds her violin—the bow, she flings on a chair—as Yotam leads her across the grass toward the dancers.  For years, she has watched them weave in tight circles, left to right, then right to left, their feet crossing one in front of the other, their half-bent legs rock-horsing forward and back, their shouts punctuating a rush to the center, a change in direction, a solo act in the inner-most circle.  Shira has stood at a distance, feet planted, lips closed, the only sounds the staccato of her violin.  But now, beneath the big desert sky, amidst shouts and claps that grow louder with her approach and the parting of bodies to allow her in, Shira lets the full weight of her legs pound the earth, the full length of her arm-span beat out loud claps, and with a deep intake of air, Shira unleashes the full power of her voice in notes so pure as to blot out the longest silence, to stretch as high as the heavens, as far as the sea.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JENNIFER ROSNER

Jennifer Rosner is author of the memoir, If A Tree Falls: a family's quest to hear and be heard (NY: Feminist Press, 2010) and she is a frequent attendee of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.  Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Massachusetts Review, Good Housekeeping, The Forward, and elsewhere.

The New Violin is an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Hidden.

This page was first displayed
on May 02, 2014

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