Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Arrogance of Sound

Snow again.

Night slips away. Branches, a roof, a truck, a field . . .  shimmering, blue-white, in the not quite darkness.

The windows gaze at still air. In the stove, the ghost of a tree shifts, crackles, splits, sighs. A teakettle boils. A chair scrapes across the linoleum.

Footsteps. A pause. Then footsteps and the jangle of a dog's collar.

A pause. Then footsteps.

* * *

When I play the violin, I am driven by the exactitudes of pitch. I feel pain, real physical pain, a violence in my skull, when sounds misalign.

When I write, my obsession with pitch transmogrifies into expectation. I am entirely confident. My ear is arrogant. It is always right.

When I was studying poetry with Baron, he would not let me rest. Always, he jostled me further: don't stop, keep looking, dance, dig, shriek, kill. But he never questioned my ear. We hardly spoke of it. There was nothing to say.

Once, many years later, he asked me, "Do you even like music?" I looked at him. Finally I said, "I don't know."

Music controls the workings of my mind. I would not be myself without it. I possess this thing . . . this ear, this awareness. It is like being an oracle. I am unhappy about revealing such powers. Immodesty is a sin.

A blank page. My ear cranes for sounds: a syllable, a pace, a pause. My hands fit a word, two words, a phrase into those sounds. The words accrue. They assume a meaning. My thoughts follow, discard, follow. My ear reaches for a sound. My hands suggest a word. My eyes imagine. The words accrue.

My ear is my genius, but great poems are larger than sound.

I spend my life failing to write them.

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