Fathers and Sons; or, Recalling the Sound of Time

Peter McMurray

I. Can you see anything yet?

“Well, Pyotr, can you see anything yet?” I first encountered these words, the opening line of Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons, shortly after finishing college. Having studied both Classics and Slavic literature, but really only Ancient Greek and South Slavic, I felt a compelling need to devour Russian and Latin literature (granted, mostly in translation) to make up for the obvious lacunae in my education. Not a week passed without someone asking, “Oh, you majored in Classics, have you read Famous-Latin-Masterwork-X?” or the same for Slavic studies and Russian. Usually the answer was no, though I masked my embarrassment with some kind of (mostly accurate) screed about how underrated Greek or non-Russian-Slavic literature was.
In any case, very little of that literary binge remains with me. But Turgenev’s opening lines left a deep impression at that moment, not least because his protagonist, Arkady, has just graduated from college, his mind chock-full of revolutionary (or at least nihilistic) ideas. There I too stood at the end of college, Turgenev’s question resonating in my ears: well, Peter, can you see anything yet? For Turgenev, the question conjures a sense of waiting and of time passing: a father dutifully awaits the return of his son from school, fighting the molasses-thick flow of time that precedes so many homecomings. (Alas, the Peter in question is merely a servant, but simultaneously a modern man of progress, a proto-punk with dyed-and-styled hair.)  From here, as Arkady’s father, his servant Pyotr, and the reader wait patiently, Turgenev lunges headlong into the family’s genealogy, unearthing the historical forces that then shape the novel.
These concerns of time, genealogy, family, and history mattered—and still matter to me—a great deal. Yet as a twenty-something with an over-hyped diploma, the more pressing issue was Turgenev’s question itself: could I see anything yet? Did I see the world more clearly as a result of my studies? Only now do I realize that unlike Turgenev’s Pyotr, regardless of what one might be able to see, I should have been listening first, then looking. There was certainly plenty to hear—in fact, I had been hearing it for several years already.

II. On Heroes, Timely and Otherwise

My first encounter with Greg Nagy came in fall of my sophomore year, leaving an impression as deep as it was wide. In the fall semester, sitting in on his “Heroes” course, I not only fell in love with the literature of antiquity—yes, especially Homer—but I also found my interest piqued by all kinds of films, operas and other media that I otherwise would have thought of as somehow a bit outdated or otherwise uninteresting: Olympic opening ceremonies, Madame Butterfly, even Disney, and above all, Bladerunner, a favorite of mine now. My experience was deepened in other directions too, thanks to the tutelage of my assigned teaching fellow, David Elmer, who not only taught me Homer, but also opened the doors (literally) of the Milman Parry Collection to me, encouraging me to expand my chronological and geographical view for my final paper by writing on the Montenegrin nationalist epic of the 19th century, The Mountain Wreath. Over the ensuing semesters, I would take several other courses from Greg and in so doing read everything from Greek lyric poetry to Aristotle’s Poetics to The Singer of Tales. And I would work with David over the summers on various manuscripts and other material from the Milman Parry Collection.
Like all traditions, this study of oral literature required careful transmission and initiation. My own father, as it turns out, had been introduced to similar ideas a generation earlier as he pursued his own studies in literature. Indeed, while in college, he too was assigned to read The Singer of Tales, though it was a much more radical pedagogical decision at the time. So he was extremely supportive of my own studies, eventually dubbing David my academic “father” and Greg my “grandfather,” mostly as a mnemonic device to help him distinguish these two people he’d never met. (Or perhaps this was just his way of gently nudging me out of my youth, for which he bore some responsibility, into full-fledged adulthood, where he could wash his hands of whatever shenanigans I might get caught up in.) Eschewing his usual intellectual modesty, Dad went farther still, claiming Albert Lord and Milman Parry as my adoptive great-grandparents too.
Whether or not I can rightfully lay claim to such an intellectual genealogy, I do feel that I had been initiated during those years of early study: initiated into a tradition of listening where others looked (or read), and of understanding time and sound as having an intimately related existence. My first encounter with this tradition must have come from the Iliad, as Achilles explains the dilemma of his own death: to meet an untimely death but receive undying glory-through-song (kleos aphthiton), or to return home and live long without such fame. (Fittingly, of course, his whole speech in Book IX is also surrounded by sound, or its lack: he is already singing this song of klea when the envoy arrives, and his speech leaves his comrades in arms in stunned silence.) Speaking of genealogies, Achilles’ awareness of his fate comes from his mother, Thetis; he too needed some instruction in the transmission that enlivens these sounding traditions. At risk of vast oversimplification, I would suggest that Achilles ultimately chooses sound over time, embracing the perpetual untimeliness of the resonant triumph of the heroic song-tradition. In so doing, that tradition is maintained and oddly enough transmitted further.
These echoes are not always easy to hear, unsurprisingly. The reduction of sound to text, whether in the writing (down) of poetry, musical notation, or even a computerized image of a waveform, requires interpretation—it demands that its viewers have the proverbial ears to hear of the initiated. As one of my research colleagues put it (albeit in the context of sensory perception in Sufi practices in Islam), we must learn to see with our ears and hear with our eyes, which apart from its metaphysical tinge is ultimately a very similar demand to the challenge of reading oral poetry. I have sometimes said (partially in jest, but always with some seriousness) that the nascent field of sound studies began with Milman Parry not only because of his remarkable approach to fieldwork and his farsighted understanding of orality, but because he heard what others could only see, transmuting a textual genre back into its original state of sonic liveliness. And this is the intellectual family history I was slowly absorbing through college.

III. The Remixing of Homeric Verse

Milman Parry’s legacy is a complicated thing. But for a moment, I’d like to consider him and his work in sound—and more specifically, in transforming text (back) into sound—within a very particular temporal context, namely that of the calendar year. The first time I saw the massive collection of aluminum disks he recorded, I ascribed it to his long stay in the former Yugoslavia—something on the order of three years (1933-1935). As it turns out, he basically had a summer of preliminary research followed by one long academic year (from one summer through the next). In other words, precisely the kind of time one has for dissertation research (solidarity!) or a sabbatical year. But the impressiveness of the feat is less interesting to me than the pacing—the unfolding over time—of that research. By looking at Parry’s itinerary, captured as it is through his (and his assistants’) meticulous documentation of time and place of recording/dictation, a picture emerges of how Parry’s research evolved, especially during his full year in Yugoslavia. And even more so, it elucidates the ways in which Parry, whether the intellectual founder of sound studies or not, was able to enact that scholarly alchemy of transforming a literary genre, the epic, into a traditional practice of sound.
First of all, Parry collected relatively little during his first summer. Through July and most of August 1933, he collected only eight songs as written texts and recorded one sung by Nikola Vujnović, his eventual guide, on his parlograph. He then set out on August 21 and took down a few dozen songs over a ten-day period, all of which came from locations like Stolac, Nevesinje and Gacko (in southern Herzegovina) that were geographically close to his home base of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Coast. Back in Dubrovnik he again documented a pair of songs from Vujnović, one as recorded audio and one as a written, autograph text. He then contracted with a couple singers from Herzegovina (Milovan Vojičić and Šczepan Prkačin) to send him texts, which they dutifully did with some regularity over the course of the next seven months. Given the demands of learning a new language and developing the necessary contacts to carry out research, even this amount of work in one summer is no small feat. Yet it pales in comparison to what would follow.
The next year (1934) Parry returned to Dubrovnik, armed with a full-fledged recording apparatus. Enlisting the help of Nikola Vujnović, he nevertheless started rather slowly again, apart from a trip in June and July to Stolac followed by a couple of days on the opposite side of Yugoslavia in southern Serbia, marking Parry’s first trip to the Sandžak, a region that would be extremely important for the project. The next two months were slower again, though they included short trips south (to Montenegro and Macedonia) and north (into the Bosanska Krajina almost as far as Bihać). The project was further interrupted in October by the assassination of King Alexander, which kept Parry in Dubrovnik for another month.
But then something curious happened: after these fits and starts Parry emerged with a much more focused and consistent (if grueling) approach to his collecting trips. After this month-long hiatus, he immediately set out for Novi Pazar in the Sandžak for an intensive two weeks of collecting (November 12-26). Several interesting developments emerged in Novi Pazar. First, Parry’s pace increased significantly, as he and his team (perhaps including Albert Lord at this point) began recording considerably more on the aluminum disks, though Vujnović still took copious dictations. Relatedly, they also began holding much larger conversations (or pričanja) with the singers, exploring their lives, their repertoire and their place within the tradition. And lastly, Parry began to focus his attention on bilingual singing, the first of several topics of interest more specific than “the Tradition” as a whole that would push his research agenda in fascinating directions.
Shortly after they returned to Dubrovnik, the month of Ramadan began (December 8). Despite the emphasis (e.g., in The Singer of Tales) on the holiday as a critical period for epic performance, it seems to have affected Parry’s new work flow quite minimally (for better or worse), as he continued making short trips to his stand-by destinations, the nearby towns of Stolac and Gacko, through the month and afterward. Not until March did he launch out on another major trip, this time to Bihać, Bosnia, the northern-most point of his collecting. He stayed there for over a month, once again working at a rapid pace and finding a new sub-focus, this time paying particular attention to (and encouraging) interactions between singers. He frequently paired Murat Žunić and Ćamil Kulenović, from nearby Kulen Vakuf, for group interviews (or razgovori) and singing experiments, such as repeated performances of the same song. These multi-singer conversations and experiments would foreshadow some of Parry’s most innovative (or radical) methods in his final days in the field.
After a short period of rest after Bihać, Parry surged ahead with an exhausting itinerary, making his final trips to Gacko and Stolac in late May/early June. The Gacko trip is especially significant as it added yet another crucial element to Parry’s collection, the lyric songs (and a couple of epics) performed by women singers. As he had done elsewhere from the outset, Parry was farming out collecting responsibilities to other locals who could gather in songs (apparently for some pay for their work). In this case, Parry augmented a written collection dictated by women with several days spent recording women singing in the house of the local muezzin.
From there, Parry embarked on his final trip into Montenegro, lasting almost two months and leading him to unleash a variety of unorthodox approaches to collecting, documenting, and archiving. After a 10-day stint in Kolašin, he arrived in the town of Bijelo Polje by June 27, 1935, and immediately made the acquaintance of Avdo Međedović, whose songs would become the central priority for the next six weeks. At this point, Parry, Vujnović and Lord were a formidable team, able to record Međedović’s singing for hours on end and yet still be finding and recording new singers the same day. As was the case in Novi Pazar, recorded conversations with singers (pričanja) once again expanded, as Parry and Vujnović conducted several interviews in response to single epics by Međedović and a dozen total with the singer. And of course scope was a major issue in the songs themselves, not merely the conversations, as Međedović was famously able to sing songs that lasted days on end, reaching well beyond 10,000 lines of decasyllabic poetry. Although not as significant as the bilingual bards of Novi Pazar, they also found a singer, Ramiz Burnazović, who knew a number of songs in Turkish. In other words, they were carrying out fieldwork that was simultaneously hyper-focused on Međedović, yet informed by all the advances and rich tangents that had been explored on earlier trips.
The final three days in Bijelo Polje (August 9-11) intensified even further, as Parry once again drew on previous experiences (especially from Bihać) as he brought another singer, Mumin Vlahovljak, together with Međedović, to perform some experiments dealing with repeated performances and transmission of new repertoire. At the same time, Parry was experimenting himself with documentary formats, making a short, synchronized-sound film (roughly 90 seconds) of Međedović singing. Remarkably, even while carrying out an expansive conversation with Međedović (Aug. 9), the experimental song exchange (Aug. 9-11), and the film recording (Aug. 10), Parry and his colleagues still found time to record new singers even up to the final day. This flurry of activity would tragically be Parry’s final field venture before his own untimely death, but it also indicates the intense energy he, Vujnović and Lord expended over the course of that year, ramping up into an ethnographic grand finale after which they must have realized they had completed the task at hand. Later Lord would set out for Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and also the places they had already traveled, but for now, their fieldwork-performance had come to a close. The fleeting time of that year in Yugoslavia, from the late June trip to Stolac in 1934 until Bijelo Polje in July and August 1935, had been exchanged for songs and sounds, and an archive had effectively been born out of all these efforts.
But what remains so remarkable about this archival legacy is how vibrant it still sounds, despite the perpetual sense of feedback in the microphone, the filtering of many sound frequencies, or the skips on the aluminum disks. While these recordings are in many ways mere aural snapshots of the vibrant ecology of these poetic traditions, they nevertheless make the uncanny demand that hearers remember the vivid, if ephemeral, history of sound that undergirded that tradition. In other words, they may be frozen fragments of a once-flourishing tradition but they still offer some chance to hear these voices from another era that would otherwise exist only in chapbooks and other published song collections. This posthumous presence has proved of particular interest in recent years with the conversations, whether for family members or scholars. And of course, those with a more romantic ear have long found these recordings to be a kind of poetic seashell, allowing the listener to hear (perhaps fancifully) the roar of the ocean of ancient epic long since vanished. But whatever they may be, these final inscriptions of the Bijelo Polje epics stubbornly and perpetually resist reduction to pure text. The coughs, the birds chirping, the interrupting voices from the background, the guiding questions from Milman Parry to Nikola Vujnović, and again, the scrapes and bends and warps in the records themselves, all serve as reminders that those intensive months of work were a labor, a monumental struggle in their own way, to ensure that sound would prevail against time, at least in some small measure.
Milman Parry, for his part, has been memorialized as having contributed to our understanding of “the making of Homeric verse.” He indeed did that, but he went a step further too. Like a DJ who spins antiquity, he took the original mix—Homeric epic, in its written form—and by means of a pair of turntables, a microphone and an unbelievable amount of hustle, remixed it as a living tradition, sampling widely from the Adriatic to the Bosnian krajina down to Macedonia. He and Albert Lord have left us a massive, still under-explored archive so we too can dig in the crates (though it’s harder to DJ with wire spools). It’s tempting to ascribe it to technophilia, but the requests for information about this recording device (which has vanished) and its origins in small-town Connecticut (almost equally as inscrutable) roll in with surprising regularity. Like the revived interest in the conversations, these requests suggest that the archive entails something that extends well beyond the songs themselves or even the theorizing constructed through those songs. Only time will tell what other diamonds will emerge from this mass of sonic aluminum.

IV. Other Sons, Other Fathers

It has taken some years for me to appreciate these aspects of the Milman Parry Collection. But given this legacy of sonic transmutation and the intellectual genealogy I had been drawn toward, it also seems fitting that my capstone project in college—my final rite of passage, in some sense—entailed traveling to Montenegro and meeting Zaim Međedović, whose father Avdo had become the iconic face of Parry’s and Lord’s research. The help and support of Greg Nagy and David Elmer was absolutely essential (as well as that of Kay Shelemay, who has now fittingly become my Doktormutter), both in preparation and guidance throughout the project. But as is so often the case with ethnographic work, at some point those archetypal helpers step back and the initiate must walk alone to encounter whatever looms ahead.
In my case, it helped that Zaim exudes generosity. In June 2004, when I first approached the door to his home just outside Bijelo Polje with a couple of new acquaintances from the town, he stepped out and intercepted us, warmly welcoming us even before he knew why we had come. The weather was warm but pleasant, and he arranged several sheepskin throws for us to sit on outside while we chatted. He told me that he had sung (and as he recalled, recorded for) Milman Parry when he had been an eight-year-old boy. He was quite bashful but he eventually sang a short Marko Kraljević song for the visiting professor, Vujnović and Lord, who were all sitting nearby. Years later, when Lord returned in 1950, Zaim was also there at his father’s side and once again met with him, recording a formal interview for the archive in which he emphasized his own ambivalent but deeply admiring relationship with his father, Avdo. After that, a half century passed before I would stumble to his doorstep, but he remained eager to discuss this tradition which he cared so passionately about and generous with his time in doing so at my convenience (by which I mean, my unannounced arrival).
The day after my arrival he performed a song, “The Wedding of Bojičić Alija.” He talked at considerable length about both our forebears (at least in the intellectual sense, for me), even taking me to see the grave of his father, where he prayed and gushed about how good a man he had been. But his choice of songs also pointed to a certain genealogy. The hero Alija Bojičić, as Mirsad Kunić has pointed out to me on occasion, has a strong heroic connection with his children, generally appearing with them in his heroic exploits. In this case, a wedding likewise points to an extension of life and family that, again, transcends the individual. I probably would not have chosen such a song then—of course I secretly hoped he would sing some excerpt of his father’s greatest (and extremely lengthy) hits, like “The Wedding of Smailagić Meho” or “Osmanbeg Delibegović and Pavičević Luka”—but as with so many things in life, it seems like an ideal choice with a few years’ hindsight.
I most recently visited Zaim this spring, in May 2012. He was not well—he had suffered a bad fall a couple of years back and has struggled since then to keep his mind as sharp as it had once been. When I asked him if he would sing a song, he politely but firmly declined, concerned that he might not be able to get all the details right—he has always been both fastidious about the quality of his songs and also a bit timid in performing them, traits that can be seen a half century earlier. The last time we talked, he had asked me to bring more materials from the Milman Parry Collection to him, if possible, so I brought some photos and a printout of the transcript from his 1950 interview with Lord (LN 59). He wanted to read the text immediately and although he was able to read the words of the transcript just fine, he struggled to make sense of the transcript format, with its alternating names implying different speakers. Even punctuation threw him off, as he would read it aloud as though it needed to be pronounced. Here, I thought, was some kind of tragic malformation of Parry’s shift from text to sound: instead of offering an avenue into a rich cultural past, it merely highlighted the inevitable march of time. Once again time and sound had done battle, and time seemed to have the upper hand, at least for the moment.
But our conversation soon picked up, and before long Zaim was waxing rhapsodic about his own childhood, his father’s repertoire, poems he learned as a child, the highway built next to his home, his own poetic tastes, my erratic visiting habits, and visits by other scholars since we had last talked, including the late Zlatan Čolaković and the German media scholar, Wolfgang Ernst. He even recounted some of his final performances for local television and an academic conference a few years earlier. Time had taken its toll but Zaim and I both agreed that the richness of the tradition remained for all to see and hear, in no small part thanks to the efforts of those generations who had gone before us.

V. The Persistence of Memory (The Time Drips)

As a teenager, I used to love The Living End’s cover of The Cure’s “10:15 on a Saturday Night.” Part of my interest, as I would realize a few years later (when I finally heard The Cure’s version), was based on a misunderstanding. I was convinced that the chorus of the song was: “And the time drips, drips, drips, drips.” As it turns out, it was “the tap dripping,” not “time.” I’m not at all sure why I was (so illogically) predisposed to hearing about dripping time rather than taps in the first place. Perhaps it was the overwrought punk accent of The Living End’s singer, or maybe I was just a surrealist at heart, subconsciously conjuring images of Salvador Dalí in a mosh pit. In any case, the thought of time dripping moved me then and now much more than a leaky faucet—and again (somewhat more seriously), this intuitive relationship between time and sound was one that deeply occupied my thoughts even as a teenager. I read of other musical idols like John Coltrane talking about metaphysical impossibilities like playing a musical idea that starts from the middle of a musical line or gesture, then simultaneously moves to the beginning and end. And rap music was in the air, sharing with punk rock a fixation on the fleeting loss of youth, innocence, and too often life. So why couldn’t time drip away on a Saturday night? These ideas all seemed very real, especially when embedded into music.
At this point, however, I am mostly just astonished at how quickly the past 10 years have dripped: exactly a decade this fall semester since I set foot in a first, overcrowded lecture for “Heroes” in the Fong Auditorium. And as I write this personalized reflection on those years from “the field” as I conduct my own doctoral research, I feel the kind of gratitude mixed with wonderment at my own intellectual forefathers and -mothers. (How exactly did they do all that?!) They’ve transformed text to sound, books into lively acoustic traditions (past and present), and even in their teaching, an alphabetic logos into dialogic exchange. At the outset of this Festschrift project, I had intended to set to music the opening of Horace’s second ode from Book IV. I would call it “Pindar’s Horace,” as Horace takes stock of the powerful legacy of his Hellenic predecessor’s poetic voice: he not only lauds the audacious dithyrambs, the weeping brides, and the gushing rivers of sound, but also warns of the catastrophe that awaits those who think they can successfully emulate the poet. (I presume this is the usual false modesty of praise poets: it would seem Horace is trying to out-Pindar Pindar here, but no matter.)
In any case, the time has dripped a bit too quickly for me to manage such a composition, not least because I have now become a father too. But it was touching to be reminded by one of those Great-Latin-Authors-I-never-read of how the past has always resonated well beyond its own moment, whether in Pindar or Avdo or Coltrane. Listeners in the present may not always pay much attention, but over the centuries we have found many ways to ensure that sound can and does persist beyond its initial decay. Even as my own study and research continue to move away from oral poetry itself, I find myself still ensconced in a world of remembrance and voice as I attend Sufi zikrs in Turkey, Germany and the former Yugoslavia. The object of remembrance has changed into something more weighty and godly, but the medium remains the same: a voice sounding as time persistently charges forward. The sheikh of the Sufi order I am researching has described zikr as something one tastes, a sacred utterance that begins with the tongue and progressively moves inward toward the throat and body. The voice slowly transforms the ritual expressions—various names and attributes of God—from speech into something more akin to breath or even white noise. As I write, the month of Ramadan is well under way, and while I have never encountered a bard performing poetry through the nights of Ramadan in Berlin or Istanbul, it is common practice for devout Muslims to gather and listen to recitations of the Qur’an every night of the month. Although one might view oral-traditional poems about heroic conquest and weddings as the ultimate antithesis of the Qur’an, with its pious themes, precise notation and insistence on its own bookness, both ultimately rely on sound as a principle medium, if only for those who have ears to hear and understand.
Although I’m unable to compose a full piece of music, I would still like to leave something beyond just my own narrative ramblings. In response to Turgenev’s anxious father awaiting the arrival of his own child, asking what I, Peter, can see, I believe my only answer is that I can see very little, but I have learned to hear at least a few things, and maybe even hear them with some clarity. In hopes of sharing some of those, I leave a decasyllabic token of gratitude and admiration—a hybrid of sound and word—for a mentor who taught me how to read and more importantly how to hear.

The Sounds of Dripping Time (For Greg, 2012)

Let the first word be a simple thank you,
Gratitude for much support and care.
Next comes humor, all that great pop culture.
Remind me, were replicants space rhapsodes?
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”—
Maybe so, yet still I’ve heard much more.
Although Avdo or his dear son Zaim
Might insert here wisdom from their fathers
Salted with misogynistic banter,
I’ll leave that with all those dusty gusle
Hanging up in quiet desperation
In the archive, lodged in Widener’s Room C.
Finally our invocation closes
With petition for a patient reader,
Or a hearer, whichever it may be.
Ten long years have dripped right past my vision
Like a shooting arcade at the funpark,
Ducks mark days, months moving in a column,
As I watch them, questioning and puzzling,
‘Is the future before or behind me?’
Sadly Greek has slipped from my tongue mostly,
I strain hard to recall participles;
Long forgotten verbs and principal parts
Bend my mind like circumflexed contractions,
All receded to an intellectual
Past tense from which little ever returns.
Still I dabble, reading on occasion
Haltingly, yes, of course without parsing.
If philology is “reading slowly”
I guess that makes me quite professional.
But your efforts haven’t been for nothing,
You showed me that reading transcends inkblots
On a page or on a fragile parchment;
That text, be it logos, reč or riječ
Has power to resonate its audience
Like the ping of submarines in deep-seas,
Or bats winging through the slumber of night,
Merging sight and sound for navigating
Worlds of darkness, ambiguous spaces,
Leaving us a heterotopia
Of furious sound that shakes the body,
Quadrophonic bursts of those frequencies
So low that no ear can really hear them
Yet powerful—Feel reverberations
Signifying everything and nothing,
Who knew words and books would inspire dancing?
Deeper down I know that meaning means still,
Though I’m burdened with a sense of longing
Just to hear and then to bear my witness.
Imagine, a parlograph incarnate.
Kittler tells the story of a madman
Seeking to record those who’ve departed
In the hope of showing off for ladies,
Yes, but also to technologize an
Interest in his beloved Goethe,
Phonographing spaces where he’d lived once
To catch echoes—any aural decay—
Thus attacking the sustain and release
Of his words, sighs, and verbalizations.
But then I’d ask, why stop just at Weimar?
Let’s continue, further back and southward:
Whence dactylic hexametric poems,
And did they tell jokes in Linear B?
The myst’ries as taught by Pythagoras
Always thought of resonance as cosmic
Whether sonic and/or planetary:
We could ask now with our gramophone.
Now imagine that I bow the gusle
Suddenly I’ve played a deep pedal tone,
The register of my voice leaps higher
Signalling that this poem’s tenor shifts now.
I sing anger, not because I’ve been robbed
Of some woman, or a trophy I won;
Nor because my shaggy breast is aching,
Though all souls need aegis-bearing comfort
In the chill ‘fore rosy-fingered dawn breaks.
No, my ire is more exasperation
Stemming from the sharp flow of works and days,
Constant, pressing, always unrelenting.
Things need writing, still far more needs reading,
Expectations shove my grasp, extending
Far beyond where reason would compel me.
Ephemeral hope may yet still linger,
Like the poets speaking from the dust heap—
History has not taught comprehension.
I sing regret, the illumination
Come just too late, time’s untimely passing,
Bewildering, like a siren wailing
While in free fall as it dopplers past us;
Or reflections angling through still water
Pure deception of our sense of sensing.
Once more I bow with the horse hair stretching
For the tone must pivot upward here, now.
I sing joy too, tautologically
One might argue, song itself the reason,
As the guslar performs and composes
Tales of glee when the occasion dictates
Or lamenting heroes at their falling.
Time heaves forward, and we all meander
Like our fathers trekking through the mountains,
Traipsing back and forth from the kafanas,
Watchful, hoping for a modern Homer.
We’re collectors of a constellation
Of small fragments, paused acoustic moments:
Sonic mem’ries, chronologic hearing.
What came first then, in the world’s beginning—
Light or spirit or some godly utt’rance?
Sound enlivens, whatever the answer,
Gods or demons, big bangs all affirm it.
Derrida may practice pharmakeia
Seeking out the irrepressible trace;
Yet those with ears, hear my disagreement.
Know, this world is pure heterophony:
The breath of life can hardly be written.