Jan 122010

by Paul Hostovsky

We stumbled upon

this classical guitar contest going on

on the fourth floor of the music building—

We slipped inside, sidling in

to some empty seats in the back, feeling vaguely

wrong. There were two guitarists up on stage

facing off like boxers, but seated, each holding a guitar

in the classical manner, left foot higher

than the right, knee in the curve of

the instrument where it flared like the hip of a lover.

One guitarist played while the other listened. Then

they switched. Then two plain-clothed men

bearing new guitars as gingerly

as if they were bombs to be defused, or sleeping babies,

handed them to the guitarists, took the used ones

off their hands, and bore them with the same solicitude

offstage. Then the same musical pieces

were played, more guitars brought out, and the same pieces

repeated. That’s when it dawned on us, the guitars

were competing, not the guitarists. The wares

of classical guitar makers from all over the world

were competing here, and the audience was filled

with luthiers, and classical guitarists looking—listening—

to buy their next axe. It was the strangest feeling,

like all this time we’d been looking east

while everyone watched a sunset in the west,

or like we’d been listening to our own wristwatches

while everyone else knew time did not exist.

First place went to the Spanish, second to the Czechs,

and third to an American from San Antonio, Texas.

Afterwards, in the lobby, the only way to tell

the classical guitarists from the other mortals

was their unusually long thumbnails.