Best Worst Year: Episode 76 (Or, Hum)

The space is a shell. Hollowed out of that intangible feel which makes a house a home. Occupied space. Everything is right where you left it when you went to work this morning. No vandals or looters. Your Ikea record rack is as full as it was when you were staring at it from across your bowl of Corn Flakes. Your flea market lamp is as dusty and neglected as it has been for weeks. A small outline forming around a small stack of poetry books earmarked for holiday reading–after classes, exams, and when the general ennui of too much time gets to you. Where did time go today? Your personal space feels suspended from the daylight framed outside. It’s out of time and out of place. Inside your chest, a tiny vacuum begins to build. You open a window just to hear noise.

Tourniquet. Coathanger on a kitchen table.

The unfinished basement invited black mold to crawl its way up the washer and dryer. Wood pallets were slowly rotting beneath them; at once both soft and dry and damp to the touch. Against the white Maytag backdrop, flecks of black were forming an alternate universe–a photo negative cosmos. You could see where the rain would seep into the building’s foundation. Exposed cinder block was already a black hole of decay. The cough which lingered. A trail of spores with imagined spurs in your lungs. Pneumonia’s milky spilled fever dream left you with fiberglass breath and out of work for weeks. Your stomach was a slow boil of bile and sick. You ate egg drop soup, dipped fortune cookies into the warm yolk-broth. The burn would start in your throat and punctuate at the pit of your stomach, like dumping thumbtacks into acid. The radiator would keep you awake with its death rattle and ability to snap the spine of sleep clean in half.

Broken laundry basket. Knotholes in the floorboards.

You slept in a storage room above the record store where you worked. Space heater. Broken futon. The makeshift shower stall. Alleyway with the used syringes. The payphone across the street would ring all night. You spent your days cleaning records, stocking shelves, buying stolen game consoles from junkies. The Captain America poster in the broken frame. Your stomach always hurt from eating day-old pizza and the value menu Burger King. You propped bricks under a couch for stability. You took in a stray cat, the runt of a litter. It never got the hang of the litter box. You came upstairs from work and the hallway would smell like catshit. Fresh stains in the dirty commercial carpet. Your girlfriend found a home for the kitten, under her mother’s daycare, in its unfinished basement. Eventually you stopped visiting the cat. Eventually you quit working under the table and rented a cheap apartment with dirty shag carpets and a front porch. The record store isn’t there anymore, either.

Cardboard boxes damaged by a leaky roof. A kitten with worms catches a mouse.

Fourteen hours. Mark Linkous spent over half a day unconscious with his legs pinned beneath him after overdosing. Six months in a wheel chair. Another fourteen years before he took his life by firing a rifle aimed at his heart. Sparklehorse evaporates from your headphones but his story sticks to your ribs. You are in a studio in the basement of the library. There is a set of microphones hanging from a steel tree sprouting from the heart of this table. Five empty chairs. You move sliders and dials in silent composition. Your voice is captured in a space baffled and repurposed for production. You voice-over someone else’s story. Carry the narrative across a bridge of music and conversation. There is something so satisfying about sharing a voice–being the platform which lifts the sound above the din of days and the clatter of the mundane. Thirty seconds stretched across three hours of clicks, drags, and cuts. You lean against the mixing board, close your eyes, adjust your headphones. The physical space falls away. From silence your voice and the music become the pyre upon which a poem burns its brightness. You are not the poet, or the poem. You are not the story or the broadcast. You are the point at which sound floods a room. You are the point of impact–the tip of a syringe which breaks the surface tension and allows for content and contact.

The cresting silence of a crowded room. A poem turns to smoke.

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

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