Sep 21, 2022

Soundmachine: Keep Us Where the Light Is

Joan Biddle

My thoughts, I’m thinking, are associational & interrupted just like my writing & I am probably thinking about my writing & about how a novelist friend once told me the secret was to not allow children to steal your muse time. She thought about her novels while watching her kids in the sandbox, while giving them baths, while putting them to sleep. Don’t waste time wondering whether you have Cheerios in the pantry, she said to me, years ago. The relaying of this writerly advice to you is the length of time in real time it takes for babymanchild to yank my arm. His narrowed eyes & the line of his mouth accuse me. I am not listening.  -Rachel Zucker, “Soundmachine” (SoundMachine, Wave Books, 2019)

The thing is that I try to think about other things but my thoughts always come back to Liza now.

Or to my children.

Then her children.

Then this city.

Then, bereft, empty.

The length of time it takes to have a thought yanked away

A conversation yanked away

The yanking of the arm

The wanting the mind to be awake, seeing, gathering

But then not listening to the child, always disappointing someone

I am reeling from recent events in our city, the murder of a woman right down the street, and more violence and shootings. I am reeling from getting over the flu, from too much time with and dependence on my daughter and vice versa. 

Then from my phone in the car: the Dave Matthews Band song “I’ll Back You Up”, and I’m suddenly comforted. I know that I’ve been sadder than this before. Suddenly filled with warmth, a visceral memory of being almost completely bereft. An antidote.

I remember thinking, I'll go on forever only knowing I'll see you again

And I know you’re the heaviest weight

When you’re not here that’s hung around my head

And your lips burn wild thrown from the face of a child

And in your eyes the seeing of the greatest view

Do what you will always walk where you like your steps

Do as you please I’ll back you up

Another song on the radio out of nowhere last spring, one I had listened to a hundred times before but had forgotten. It filled me with similar comfort, a body memory. It was Jeff Buckley’s "Last Goodbye", because yes, I have been sadder than this.

Zucker writes about the poem as a soundmachine and the city as a soundmachine, with the idea of these things helping to focus the thoughts, to drown out the rest. She writes about not letting children and Cheerios and schedules take up one's muse time, while admitting that she's not successful at this. That other things, like a listserv and social media, are "everywhere & always."

Anyway, the returning to the city or to the poem are kind of like mindfulness, like returning to the breath. Coming back to the poem, to the white noise of the city, to the earth.

In another poem called "In the End," Zucker writes, "I was made to make a sound."

I can always return to the song

I can always return to music 

Also to the ocean

Then two weeks ago, Pearl Jam's "Better Man" comes on Sirius on the way home, sick with the flu, from Florida. Another memory. 

The song would come booming through my friend Eva's house, soaking into the thick light-colored carpets. The guitar trill first, then leaning into the song. Played at full volume by her mom. 

On that carpet was also where her mom would come and perform unsolicited calisthenics, headstands and the like.

It was on the same carpet, on the upstairs landing, where Eva first played me Weezer's "Only in Dreams."

And then things changed. I’d never heard such a song. And as it tangled and boomed through my ears I knew this was a new beginning.

Begins with the bass

In between molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide

Crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces

Only in dreams

Here is where I was not sad but I knew that music could expand, could make bigger, could open up a whole new world.

Liza, Liza

Lips burn wild thrown from the face of a child

Always being pulled back, by the child’s hand, by the thought of her, by the song, or by the tide

Don’t worry, the sadness is always there

Don't worry, the bridges of the Seine are still there waiting for you to cross them 

As maybe the sun sets

Allow me to see the beauty and the pain all wrapped into one

Allow me to see

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