The Sound

by Weston Morrow

I’m standing on a bluff looking out over the Sound, and from this point I think I can see my life, like a thin, white cloud, moving so quickly across the sky.

Sometimes, over Puget Sound, the clouds hang in the sky for a long time, like a flat, gray sheet—like they’ll never leave.

Like rain, or Alice slipping down the rabbit hole, I feel myself falling. I let the air caress my face. I wait for the body below to absorb me.

Somewhere at my back, the forest crowds toward the cliff. I take a long sniff of mugwort, and let the dream take all of me.

Somewhere, Alice is still falling.

Somewhere, the rain is calling out to me, its pitter patter whispering the desire to be absorbed in earth.

Carly Rae Jepsen is not the artist I expected to teach me how to love. But Carl Phillips told me you don’t start walking if you already know where you’re going.

I start walking. The birds might be singing; I don’t know. There are better words, much nearer, to hear. I let their sound surround me. It’s a strange sensation, walking in the rain, to feel warm.

On her new album, Dedicated, Carly Rae has a song she calls “The Sound.” I think about it now, as I watch the ferry cut a messy wake through the water between two islands.

I’ve been testing out the waters
I don’t think I can swim, love
With the way you rock me ’round

Carly Rae sings of heartbreak, as she often does. As she often sings of love. The two are tied together in her work like joy and grief, commingled in our lives, sometimes at the same time. We fall in love and we fall in pain, but mostly we just fall. We learn to live the long way down.

Every poem has three meanings:

  1. The meaning seen by the author.
  2. The meaning seen by the reader.
  3. The meaning made between the two.

Carly Rae sings of pain and falling away. I listen to her voice on the long drive home. I sit with the car off, the sidewalk in front of the house darkening with wet. I can only hear the rain, pitterpattering the driveway. It sounds to me like falling toward something.

Love is more than telling me you want it
I don’t need the words, I want the sound, sound, sound, sound, sound
(Sound, sound, sound, sound, sound)
I don’t need the words, I want the sound, sound, sound, sound, sound
(Sound, sound, sound, sound, sound)
I don’t need the words
I want the

Sound is a force that brings new meaning to the objects we see in language. When Carly Rae sings about the sound, I hear her telling me about the depth of meaning beyond what’s contained within the letters.

Deaf poet Pamela Wright-Meinhardt writes, “Art starts in the heart and is meant to touch hearts. It is folly to think, then, that not being able to hear prevents a person from being inspired by sounds.”

Love, according to Carly Rae, might have a meaning, but it mostly has a sound. I can tell you about Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, but I can’t convey the sound in words. It has to be heard, or felt; it has to be played.

Talking to students we often say, show, don’t tell. So, we tell them how to write. Do this, not that. Not your way, mine. Where is the two-hour writing workshop in which the poet simply sits down, projects their screen, and tries to write? The room, completely quiet.

How does vulnerability sound?

In Triggering Town, Richard Hugo writes that the sound of the words is, in a sense, “infinitely more important than what is being said.”

All my life I longed to be a musician, but I have been too afraid to take the time, to learn how to play. Stepping through the madrone, you told me a good musician always has their instrument on hand. I’ve been carrying mine a long time, strapped to my back, and I don’t yet know how to use it.

Somewhere not far off, you say, a chickadee is singing in the grove of white hemlock to our left.

For the first time, I hear it. The Sound, to our right, breaks gently against the beach.

I pick up the instrument.

***

Weston Morrow is a poet, essayist, and former print journalist. He serves as assistant poetry editor for Crab Creek Review and works with the Bagley Wright Lecture Series. His recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Sundog Lit, Western Humanities Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. His reviews and criticism have appeared or are forthcoming in Blackbird and Western Humanities Review. He holds an M.A. in English Literature from Central Washington University and can be found on Twitter @WMorrow or at www.westonmorrow.com.