Mellow Is the Man Who Knows What He’s Been Missing

My therapist’s office is a short walk away from the house on Shady. A figure in large, loosely-fitted clothing serenades me as I walk, singing “Dress You Up” from a street corner as I crest a hill. Another figure sings to me from a bus stop. The neighborhood has a bit of an edge, always has, air charged with noise. Birds, motorcycles, cars cruising up and down First and Second Streets. Construction work over by the ballpark up the hill. But what was before a desolate field is now a park.

“This park can be a place to perform the Work,” thinks the Time Traveler. Birdsong relaxes him as he sits at a table gazing toward the house on Shady. Walking the bend of the park, he reads a plaque about the 1778 Salem Waterworks, part of the park’s past. A waxing ¾ moon appears in the sky above the dome of the most notorious of the city’s landmarks, the one referred to by locals as the “Phallus Palace.”

5:55 turns up again as I rise from one of the park’s benches and continue on my way. Same numbers, same time of day, two days in a row. And there in the sky, the moon, near full. What of it? What of the tape on the telephone pole flapping in the wind? Or wind chimes in a neighbor’s yard, sounding like gamelans? Or wind in the trees? The air is cold, my walk brief.

I communicate with loved ones as best I can, sending and receiving valentines and giving thanks. Yet come evening I’m alone again in my flat, listening to Love’s “Alone Again Or,” cooking dinner for one. Spaghetti and meatballs. Wishing it were otherwise. “Yeah, I heard a funny thing,” sings Arthur Lee to flamenco swells, nervous violins.

Up on the stereo afterwards rumbles Richard & Linda Thompson’s “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.” “I wanna be dancing and rolling on the floor,” thinks the Traveler, “I want it to be me and you.” Temperature rises, food cooks as I dance to Ananda Shankar’s cover of the Rolling Stones song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

It’s that time of my life, I guess, when all of these feel right: Shuggie Otis’s “Strawberry Letter 23,” Link Wray & The Wraymen’s “Rumble,” Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.”

Nico climbs atop the stack, bums me out with “These Days,” until Arthur Lee returns to remind me of how good it feels to always see your face. Songs replace songs as posts replace posts, but the music never changes, and I never quite learn the words I sing.

Notes from Another Past

Hiro Kone’s “Mundus patet” hisses out from floor speakers into the space of my living room as I sit and pack books for my journey. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning, drive conjunct with Winter Solstice. “Others are awake, living wild magical lives,” thinks the Traveler. “Let us get with them.”

I walk the path of a time tunnel, listening intently, sight reduced amid the day’s cool air as I head to the beach. ‘Tis a somber tale, if all one hears is squawking — so listen. Laughter, wheels of strollers rolling on boardwalks, children conversing with caregivers, waves crashing along the shore. I gather shells along my approach and then toss them gently into the ocean. A makeshift offering. One does what one can. Shorebirds pass; seagulls dive down and collect. Other beachgoers share the beach with us, wandering solitary or in pairs. I close my eyes and meditate, awakening myself at a set interval with a timer. Languages confront me with occasional meaning — terms like “Moses,” “nope,” and “Sunken Meadow.”

My eyes fall upon Pringles potato chips, left behind in the upstairs bedroom in the wake of Frankie’s visit. “Eat, Eat, Eat!” I hear her saying. She brings such joy, such willful, day-shaping energy. Yet here I lie, feeling crumpled and broken, sleepless and alone atop a bed of crumbs. “Until summer, I’ll be running from one thing to the next, barely able to feel my face,” thinks the Traveler. Struggling to cheer up out of this self-administered genre/affect/mood. Struggling to awaken. Until it’s not really a struggle after all. One awakens all the time: birds fly by, light shines through. And there are companions! playgrounds! friends of the forest! an immeasurable capacity to forgive.

Monday October 5, 2020

Toward evening I retire to the yard and sit beside a fire. The fire brightens as the sky darkens. Crickets and cicadas trade rhythms. Beside them ride the sonic traces of cars along the nearby autobahn. From the sky above comes and goes the sound of a helicopter. Sarah and I burn dry branches of rosemary. As night falls, I pull my chair closer to the fire and admire its warmth. The heat relaxes me. Afterwards I sit beside Frankie as she plays at her music table in the living room, awake a bit past her bedtime.

Wednesday January 22, 2020

Arrived home from work, I go for a short walk around my neighborhood and stare up at trees full of red-chested robins. More than a dozen robins at varying heights above my head. They talk: I listen. Rustles of leaves and feathers, cheery tweets, blissful songs. Beatitudes performed for me, or at least tolerant of my listening. Performed first by the birds and then afterwards electronically, by a car that pulls up beside a park, bass sounds reverberating outward even with the car’s windows rolled up. That’s what I like, something suburbs often lack: neighborhoods with music (especially when the latter is of a spontaneous or locally improvised sort). When I return home, I sit and hold her, marveling and rejoicing, struck with a sense of beatitude as I behold my daughter. One day I wish to read Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. “I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing,” Kerouac wrote in an entry in the book from 1949. “And that until then I’ll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone’s lapel and make them confess to me and to all.” Always and forever I’m filled with the awareness of countless books unread. From Kerouac to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.

Tuesday November 26, 2019

We’re ready for a new one. Little one on the way. I feel like leaning back and releasing wild exclamations, loud laughter, cries of animation and joy. Birds fill the air with song. After a walk through our neighborhood, Sarah and I sit at the counter at our favorite fried chicken joint, dining on breasts and sides. The owner recommends that we play music to entice the little one to rotate. I start thinking song possibilities: Yo La Tengo’s “Big Day Coming,” Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye,” Apollo 100’s “Joy.”

Perhaps, as Maria Montessori might say, those sounds are too loud, “displeasing to the ear of one who has known the pleasure of silence, and has discovered the world of delicate sounds” (121). Perhaps we should try at a variety of volumes a variety of timbres and tones.

Sunday November 24, 2019

Crows and helicopters fly overhead on a sunny but chilly afternoon. Squirrels scramble along branches of trees, pausing, waving their tails in greeting. I sit with them for a while, the neighborhood’s lawnmowers and leafblowers heard in the distance. Afterwards I join Sarah for a walk, the two of us visiting a colleague along the way. We talk again about names and the weeks ahead, pausing now and then beside piles of leaves.

Thursday October 24, 2019

Birdsong midafternoon rich, dense, populated by conversation among many beings. We arrive as sounds, resonances, sense-data in worlds populated by all the others, the traveling companions, fellow players in what Nathaniel Mackey calls the Mystic Horn Society. We sit close to one another, each with a head buried in a book, reading, breathing, being. We shake, we stretch, in our own way, on our own time: birds, squirrels, humans. Mackey’s project is to operate language as an “eroding witness” while still living in a universe of sound, language used to allow sound once again to be heard. On an evening prior to discussing his poems for the first time with students, I catch a performance by Chick Corea in a chapel. Mackey himself is set to perform with the Our True Day Begun Soon Come Qu’ahttet early next week. Somewhere in the midst of these doings, I find my way to Larry Coryell’s Spaces (1970), on which Chick Corea played electric piano. In all honesty, not a great record. A hummingbird speeds past the window as I listen. Afterwards I turn to Return to Forever’s “Crystal Silence.” What I really like, though, are tracks that lead elsewhere like “Spain.”

My dad listened to a lot of “smooth jazz” on his car stereo when I was a kid. At the time, my feelings about the genre were mixed at best. Often I would beg him to change the station. Sometimes I changed it myself, with or without his permission.

Monday September 30, 2019

Several factors converge: a remediation team to treat mold in our basement, the sound of a lawnmower, a Hearts of Space recording, Ariel Kalma’s Osmose.

Sounds are everywhere in quick succession. The air vents, the refrigerator; somewhere in the distance, a clock. Sarah’s pen moves across a page as she grades. I sit at points during the experience, feeling what Hearts of Space co-founder Anna Turner, using the on-air pseudonym Annamystyq, called “wind sung sounds.” These sounds, she said, “are heard, experienced, on the skin delicately,” like the peeling of a potato, but “with exquisite softness.” This wind, she adds, brings healing, reminding us that we are “starflower beings,” conversing with those close to us. Beside me sits a purple flower, a Sweet William. Sarah prepares mashed potatoes for dinner with friends. I spend a few more moments wandering about in Osmose, contemplating the shape of the whole. Before I know it, I’m elsewhere.

Wednesday March 20, 2019

“Space is the Place” plays at a low volume, at the back (as opposed to front and center) of my thoughts, though in fact it’s one of the most bracing performances I’ve ever heard, while I reflect on my mixed feelings toward my discipline’s fondness for jargon.

Don’t get me wrong: I like it when my colleagues gather and talk texts. But I prefer birds whistling from treetops. Along with assists from the other elements of human and nonhuman nature, the evening orchestra performs its polyphonic improvisation — with me there to observe and to listen in surround sound in the hollow of a glade. Through these acts we teach each other. As we pull together, we expand each other’s capacity to sympathize and finally to love. I am describing an effort to bring about a fundamental change in “reality” itself, which is to say, in ideology.