VIOLINS: VIOLENCE by Annie Kim
Vitula. Viol. Violino.
Violare. Violentus. Violentia.
Origin and History of Violence, reads the header.
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* * *
Last night you dreamed again
about your father—
You had him by the wrists:
above your head, the way you’d catch
a snake, one hand beneath his
fighting hard to not get bitten (you’ve worked so hard to not get bitten), other hand wrestling with the slick, elusive tail— Violins: Violence No shared root for these words,but isn’t it interesting that the Japanese counter (cho) for violins includes scissors, oargun and rickshaw? As in, give me a cho of violins. And some guns.
* * *Vitulare—to sing or rejoice—is related to
vitula, deity of victory and thanksgiving and Roman festivals, giving us the root for
both fiddle and violin. Vitula (also calf), because calf guts were used for violin strings.Morning: he has left the bed. Your chest feels likebatting in a pillow, no upholstery,no fringe. Behind the wall,water splashes the bathtub tiles,
your husband’s whistling— Mahler-something, each spacebetween his cheerfully constructednotes absolute. Yes,your father hurt you. Loved,in fact, to hurt youso all the hurt could flee the burningforests in his body, slither out toenter yours, renewed—he could see for a moment thenshapes he couldn’t bear to watch alone,a man bending down in the dark toblow out a crown of birthday candlesThen everything would be sweet again.You could eat the cake because sweet is what your body craved.What you couldn’t hold, you didn’t.
* * *Violare sounds a lot like vitulare, but it means to violate, to wrong. In my old life I argued to a judge that the definition of wrongful act includesviolations of pre-existing duty, that loss includes claims for liquidated damages. I lost. Not all bad acts are wrongful acts, he said. Not all loss is bargained for.Standing in the shower, you feel a lumpon your scalp, behind the ear.How did it get there? Can’t remember, but that feeling—something swollen, buriedbeneath your dripping hair—is familiar. Almost comforting.Like a picture that you’ve seena thousand times on a billboard appearing on your phone screen—crisp, so crisp. You remember little things: his white Hanes undershirt, fingers small and meticulous, working the potato peeler— swivel of those long, jack-o’-lantern-orange strips
* * *he scraped from the carrot falling, julienned, on the open paper.
How they soaked the newsprint.Shit-like offspring—that was his favorite curse for you in Korean.It had a satisfying ring:dactyl plus a trochee; five hard consonants.Some days it was dog offspring. When he was feeling, say,less creative, just bad offspring. Done trying whatever names he had for you, he’d pick up the bleeding newspaper, dump the peels into the trashcan— tap tap against the molded plastic. Flick the last few strips with his pearly nail tip.
* * *Quote from Marcus Aurelius, Book II of the Meditations:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I will deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like thisbecause they can’t tell good from evil.”Tell yourself what curesis the power of discrimination: spotting colors in the dark, singing in the shower.If you know you were wronged, who was wrong,well, shouldn’t you be okay? Sound from a violin (what we call music) is the product of a chain of fine aggressions and reactions: draw the bow slung with stiff white horsehair (only horses that have lived in cold weather countries) across four strings (sheep-gut core wound in silver or aluminum), start a tremor in the bridge carved from unbleached maple beneath the strings, sending ripples to the soundpost (spruce) lodged upright inside the belly—
* * *You feel fat and sad. Is this because of him, what he did to you (to you)? Is that the right preposition? You want to smash something. Thumbnail digging into nail bed, your hands slack on the wheel. What have you smashed, ever?Standing over you: he. The hand (or is it fist?)slamming the side of (whyare you recalling this?) the head. Yours.Face turned. There is no clarity,I’m done with you! no single instant—
* * *only reel, only the girl going down, getting up, go-ing down: endless loop, bad audio.A few seconds. —Make the soundpost ring. That’s what it’s built for: flood on flood of quick vibrations. Make it tremble, make it echo every note you play, transmit like a good little messenger every wave to the silent forests of the body, out again through two holes in the belly’s surface, called f-holes. As in the italic letter f, since only holes release music from an instrument. As in forte, fine, fuck.
* * *Do you remember how many times he did that to you? Through you. There was a thin blue tarp. Or you wished it—between (protecting, screening, shielding) him and you. He against, on top of (only a minute, only a few times, he probably didn’t mean it) you. Wished for something more than air.Don’t you feel mad at him? (You remember
feeling plastic.)There was no penetration there wasa tarp, thank God, it was you holding upa sky made of plastic.
* * *You want to smash something. Instead, you sing along to the radio— On the long way down,
Oh oh oh, oh oh oh— feel the seizing in your gut, how it tightens then lets go. Stop for the school bus flashing red. Tick-tock, tick-tock.Marcus continues: “But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognizedthat the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but thesame mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.” (Emphasis added)
* * *O beauty of the bathroom, patience of the door that shields her from the brittle house of him. O mirror in the cabinet never filled with medicine, bulbs in the fixture always electric. O head a ball of playdough abandoned on the blacktop in the pouring summer rain, water in the holes dug by a pencil. O trace for which she searches half in horror, half in vain, of her father’s latest handprint—proof of what the fire did, what beams of the cathedral look like burned. O camera, are you getting this? Take the roof off this house, spot the hallway to the narrow master bathroom where he sits. Show us the newspaper: pages falling open on his knees with a sound like a fan clicking shut or clicking open, sooty wings of an angel neither good nor evil, just a messenger. O beauty of believing in the sweet independence of things: coldness of the washcloth lifted to her head, water in the sink, pacing of her mother in the kitchen. O sanity in thinking even she (little weakling thing) could at this moment, if she chose to, simply hate him. I won my appeal.
When I read reversed,
I jumped up in my empty office, yelling “Suck it, Judge ________!”
I rejoiced and sang, I’d never felt so victorious.
* * *“No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him.” O Marcus.