The Music of the Street – Summer Chronicles 2018 #9

by on August 13, 2018 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

Credit: pixabay

There is music in the street. It’s easy to be enthralled by the sounds of the natural world, but urban noise frequently distresses us, disrupts our head space or intervenes into the sounds we are plugged into at the moment. But sometimes, the city bustle has its charms. So much of the urban noise that we think of as a distraction from some other narrative that has captured our attention or an intrusion into our sealed-off domestic space is seen as ugly.

But perhaps we just need to learn to listen. Is it the sounds themselves that are the issue or our reactions to them? Maybe instead of sonic garbage, the clatter and hum is part of the chorus of life. As I get older and crankier, I try to remember to leave that door in myself open so instead of pushing things out, I can let them come and go.

Sometimes, if I can stop reacting and just be, I find that the whole world is song, full of dissonance, harmony, blues, and high notes. This poem is about one of those moments:

Sunday Morning

Sitting with my coffee
In the back room
By the bottlebrush
I hear sirens racing
Toward somebody else’s pain
And the sound
Of an airplane roaring
Coming in for a landing
Leaving swirls of air
In its wake.

Then for a moment,
Before the voices
Of the gospel choir
Rise from the church
down the street
and the birds
in the tree
outside my window
and the woman
taking her laundry
up the stairs of
the apartment complex
across the alley—
singing, all singing,
this Sunday morning.

The Beats used to talk about these instances as seeing the holy in the mundane and while I am not particularly religious, I do like to think of myself as a member of the church of everyday life—a place where life itself is the focus, the work of art, the center of meaning. In this way, all of us can find grace if we learn not just to listen but to stop and see the wonder of what is.


It comes to me strangely,
Never in elegant places
But by a motel pool,
Wet and disheveled,
Staring at the late afternoon sun
On the clear water
Or half asleep in the side yard,
Awkwardly splayed
On a plastic Adirondack chair
Under a decaying wooden
Pergola covered by water-starved vines
Of morning glories and bougainvillea–
When time slows down
And each moment gains
A dense resonance–
A small ripple across the still surface
Of things,
A worn red brick
Covered with dirt
And dead leaves,
The feel of sweat on my skin,
The silence at the heart
Of all noise.

It brings a joy so thick
I can almost taste
But never hold
Longer than
A few naked

Happy summer, dear reader.

ABOUT THE SUMMER CHRONICLES – In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil. As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.” As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.” It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe. Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector. So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

Nonetheless, the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer, I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.

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