A ragged V of geese surged out from behind the trees that line the river this morning, just overhead as I got out of my car, honking their unique song like a roomful of third graders going ape-shit with clarinets. I stood there and watched them go, of course, the latest in a linked series of moments, the standing-under-geese-as-they-go-by-honking moments, strange similar beautiful moments of wonder that animals can sound like that, nostalgia for the other, older times, connected and stirred gently by this one. Sound, movement’s shadow, connects powerfully to memory.
And throughout my memory, favorite sounds have usually been the kind that dwarf me. Loud or saturating or complicated sounds that drown out the frantic scratching in my brain. Rain on the tin roof in Argentina, the cello, the super-loud single-report fireworks that flash and then a second later pound you in the chest. Cicadas, trains, the scream of an Imperial Starship in the theater. “Axis: Bold as Love” through high quality German speakers. Thunder, timpani, Mozart.
Sounds can be scary or unpleasant, too. Abstract, they leave a lot to the imagination. Snowplows frightened my daughter at night for years—I can only wonder what those gouging, ripping sounds made her visualize, her pinched face suddenly appearing by my bedside. I felt similarly about the el train screaming by my dorm room the first few nights of college. Feeling small and enveloped can be comforting. Small and vulnerable: less so.
The vibrant, fearless voices of my children penetrate the office door as I write this. They are the finest and most terrible sounds I know. They are the sound of my life arriving and departing. They tell me it’s time to wrap this one up.
Laura Orem’s “Cosmic Background Radiation” roars down the page at the speed of sound, displaying her finely tuned ear. When the poem swerves from its triggering subject in the final stanza, it arrives right at the heart. Orem dedicates this poem to Liam Rector, accomplished American Poet and Educator, who died in 2007.
“Slutty Red Dress,” flash fiction from S. Kay Smith, luxuriates in the hatred for an inappropriate, self-centered rival. Told from the confident perspective of a traveling band’s road manager, the story releases information with a subtle strategy until we just detect the vulnerability behind that voice. Funny and gently heartbreaking.
Sound plays a big role in the way Jane Hammons’ character Grey Six-Killer negotiates the world and its meanings in her story, “Sounding.” He hears a man’s voice as “filled with notes like those way down at the end of the piano.” Grey’s mother and sister are talented musicians who fill his house with music and have gained reputations in this powerful early 20th century period piece. Despite subverting an element of suspense, “Sounding” ratchets up the tension throughout and won’t let you breathe until it’s over.
Photo by John Turner
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