Conjunctions:14

The Sound
There is a certain selectively audible frequency: abstraction until we actually hear. But how we hearken to that initial sound; how it changes everything. All the daily noises organize themselves around potential: a sign hung over space reserved for the possible reoccurrence of the once-uttered—likely again—sound.
     Likely again, we say, shaking our heads, trembling in bed at night, as likely becomes actual: twice, thrice; one man, two. We place bets among ourselves as we strain toward and against the dread of repetition; just as we might, more constructively, wish to position ourselves to best advantage in order to view comet, eclipse or shooting star. We invert that strategy: where would it be best not to be, and when?
     We wear whistles, like some charm or miraculous medal about our necks; finger idly for luck, or practice; ready to put metal to mouth and issue breath with all our force, so as to make the silver ball slam inside its tiny cannon. Pathetic weapon, we think to ourselves, against his doubled knife, but imagine, to console selves, a collective sound: all the tiny cannons exploding at once, summoning help, piercing the ears of who would harm. That sound, in a way, gives us courage, but also disturbs. We are fond of quiet, nostalgic for silence. And even this partly consoling sound cannot drown out the one we have come to hear all the time: waking, dreaming; while walking, while speaking; as if, through some surgical procedure, it had been placed inside us.
     This is the thing, that we can’t stop hearing the sound: a resonance connecting one note to the next, but not pleasant or soothing; not lyric at all; an increasingly specialized frequency—we deduce, as others’ ears would appear unaccosted—such as only dogs can hear. And accordingly we forget how to be erect, except in public, where he might be watching; perhaps we wish no relation to erectness. We whimper behind doors, not often allowed to come out, although when we do, we walk so straight our backs ache, always, as it were, at attention, while clutching the diminutive cannon; until the door is closed again, and we’re cowering, shivering, sometimes standing with hands over ears, cringing against what we haven’t yet heard. And yet hear.
     Where is the sound? We can’t be hallucinating. Is it in the next neighborhood? Faraway country? Falling silent as snow to the ears of others, where is it settling now? We search for the system that generated this composition: the number of rests, durational value of notes. We yearn for the luxury of regularity, perhaps remembering childhood fears: anticipation of firehouse whistles that could be relied on to shriek, or strike, every noon. When one’s ears were close, that would could be crippling, but here our proximity would seem, to objective observer, intangible. That sound, they might say, is far from you now.
     And yet how distracting, we want to reply; even when muted, even its wake; startling, to know something subtle could also be shrill; reduce us to this. As soon as we’re sheltered, we’re slouching, crouching, down on all fours: the way he would wish us, the way he would take us; man become beast has made us also bestial creature, but without the advantage of bark or bite; we who wished never to bare our teeth to any other creature.
     Don’t dare caress the street with your eyes, we say to each other: this street of which we were once so fond. Isn’t it ironic, its name was Hope, though it might have been Sycamore, Friendship, Main. Did he think it too blatant, to mark the street named Power? Instead he chose Waterman: giver of life, force of creation, as well as destruction, the rains, the floods; just as this thing we fear, and hear, in its undistorted state, is creation, affirmation, not violence.
     No, we say to each other, you’d do best to look up. And even though nothing is visible yet, if you are vigilant, if you are patient, you with your sensitive hearing might yet perceive this: a gentler, healing, soothing sound that is only for you. It’s like billowing cloth, a silken parachute opening to assist your fall, each separate fall. Though it only occurs for a moment, it, too, repeats; hear it against his blows and thrusts. Hear it gathering force: enough to cause an electrical storm, distort radio signals; an atmospheric interference that when made visible might alter the character of the sky, some special phenomenon not unlike the Northern Lights.
     This sound, when seen, makes a new constellation: joined as they are to each other, these stars. The line you could make from star to star is the visual equivalent of resonance, note to note; hereby lyric accumulates. The spokes of the stars are like hands reaching down, a hand’s soft fingers about to clasp, to join your own, and lift it up. They are speaking—the stars, soft as angels might, in archaic language: hearken to this; tune to this note, more delicate than any instrument could produce. Train your ears to hear instead this life-giving sound, of us leaving our bodies: invisible, gentle release.

Mary Caponegro’s books include The Complexities of Intimacy (Coffee House), All Fall Down (Coffee House), and The Star Café (Scribner).