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Dark Noise

Tired of silence, tired of rock, tired of orchestration,
let me tune us in this evening to FM 91.1, The Point: 
“All y’all’s favorite home for the candid sounds 
of people sleeping.” This week’s countdown of the new
top forty is sure to boast a couple tracks of bass, 
arhythmic snoring with those little flourishes of wheeze 
that are dream’s jazz. You’ve never heard this stuff? 
Well, also popular last week we had an older groom 
the night before his wedding; a midlife couple camping 
in the rain, two sets of lungs pulling and releasing, 
one and then the other as the dark tarp pipped 
and popped above; a four-year-old whose lispy, REM-bound
gibberish claimed, the cyouds is waining on the wainbow
I’ll wager that tonight she’s climbed the chart again. 

You’ll see, the introductions offer only surface details—
age sometimes, a vague location, date—and the titles 
focus more on the moment’s circumstances
than the sleepers’ larger narratives and bios 
(“Sleeping It Off,” for instance, “Poorly Sawn Log,” 
“Guestroom Mattress Blues,” “Stormy Nap,” etc.).
Still, despite their anonymity, the fleeting tracks 
will often yield a rather thorough sense of who 
you’re hearing. Lean close and you’ll pick up 
the buried stress beneath a hitch in inhalation. 
I am convinced a sated heaviness can indicate 
which counterpoised duets made love just prior 
to nodding off. You can tell who argued sometimes, 
who ate well, and whose alarm will sound too early 
and too loud. How many cosmos at the hotel bar, 
how many kids, degrees, divorces. You can hear 
whose doubts are unrequited, who’s still grieving 
decades later, though they think the grief is over. 
Or maybe that’s just my too-sensitive imagination.
I know you learn things listening to people, 
perhaps especially when they’re not talking. 

Recently, a friend confessed that she can’t sleep unless
her radio’s dialed in. A more humane white noise, 
she calls it. But nothing on The Point seems flat or static, 
nothing bright. The rooms these sleepers open all 
are tall and wide and black, and as they drowse 
we feel our way across a wilderness of carpet, 
past a heavy-curtained window, past the vanity, 
and past a mirror we can only faintly sense by how 
the lightless chamber doubles in the fathoms of the glass.
Then suddenly we’re there, looming over some dark soul 
the air is carving breath by breath from darkness.
Sometimes one of us will draw the bedsheets back 
and shiver in herself—that’d be my anxious friend. 
And so, I wonder how it’d sound to hear her sleep 
with strangers’ respirations softly polishing her walls, 
the harmonies she’d share unconsciously, her worries
up against a child’s exhaustion after all day at the pool, 
her tenderness in restive competition with a husband 
who has slept beside a wife for eighteen years, 
but doesn’t any longer. Sometimes we draw the covers,
sometimes we kneel there, lay our weightless hand
against the sleeper’s forehead, smooth his hair, 
and hear what he would tell us, what we can let him say. 

Ah, here I’ve gone and missed the preface launching
this week’s number one, but listen: The sleeper’s voice, 
if you can call it that, leaves very little secret. A rhythm 
steadier, smoother, humbler than waves: inhalations 
the size of thimbles with pinprick holes in their pits, 
so they fill up quick and almost silently leak away. 
There, do you hear her? She recorded this night 
for a reason. Set your hand by mine on the speaker.

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Published: June 6, 2024