The Record Collector
In my youth I'd hear a rhythm in my ears once and it would be hours, sometimes days, until I realized
it had since overtaken the world's white noise. It replaced the quiet, constant hum of the night traffic,
the groan of the neighbor's tree in the wind — the sounds that had once alarmed me but which I'd
grown accustomed to. Melodies faded and my thoughts replaced them, barely-formed variations on a
theme, simplistic and predictable. With time the rhythms slowed and distorted until I could barely
remember their origins, but I still could not extract myself from the drone of the dirge. I stayed on as
its conductor, compulsively feigning control until the instruments simply cut out, echo and all, and
the only sounds left reverberating were the directions I didn't realize I'd been shouting the entire time.
It was easy to imagine a city without you in it, without me in it. Already I was often absent from it and
from you, yet still, paradoxically, bound within it and within you. I knew only how to live liminally.
Were you to pass, I could cross the bridge or take the tunnel and explore you until the cacophony
consumed me. I would hear you in the white noise and spread myself out in a dome over you until you
couldn't resonate against me anymore, and then I would distill you down to each individual
contraction of your throat around my name, and then
plink a break in the treeline suggestive of a pond
When we moved to the country, listening became an intentional act. The noises of nature didn't
persist the way that a drum and a few chords did; they passed through just long enough to wave hello,
and then they were gone. I tried to hold onto them, to capture fragments, to recall the movement if
not the suite, and if not the movement then the phrase. I focused on the glissandos and the gossamer
smatterings of artifacts from the upper registers until they began to sound like pictures and I could
think of the pictures instead, and I let the low end flow alongside us with the manufactured kinship of
two cars overtaking each other for a hundred miles of highway.
whit whit two sets of feet lighting from the twice-thawed ice on the logging
In this stasis I found I could craft our own little country, less a commander than a cartographer. I held
you at night and when I looked at the dots on your skin I saw surveying pins, and when I felt your
breath across my chest I saw a former wheatfield now colonized by ragweed, and when I heard your
hair brush against the pillow I saw a rabbit's oblong footprints intertwined with a hunting path in the
snow-covered woods. My map spread out over you and onto the bed, and when you got up for water
or work it dragged behind you on the floor. I'd try to recall parts of it later in the day and fail. I'd go
into the forest and lose my path and then my orientation, stumble downhill and hope to meet the trail
somewhere, to return to my half of our land.
I've started to write down the sounds I hear in my lonely moments. I repeat them back at their makers
in my best approximations. When you were there I did the same, but I caught them in my windpipe
before they made it out. Now I can string them together into words, sentences, paragraphs. Sometimes
I can even sing them. But I only do that when I can't be heard. These are sounds for one listener and
that's all. I transpose them so that I don't get lost.
sssshhhhh red ground fading into brown and then green
I know we decided, in our first or second conversation of this nature, that we'd prefer to die together,
at the same time, rather than one of us outliving the other, but for years I continued to imagine, in
secret and without discussion, my life after you. I couldn't see it but I could hear it. Now I've played it
back so much it just drones and I can't picture anything.
Katie Mora has lived in the rainforests of Hawaii, a school bus in New Mexico, and the rolling hills of western Massachusetts. She currently writes from upstate New York.