The Past Alive

 

It used to be that the world had rested entirely on her father’s shoulders. He was the steady one, the safe one—the person she could depend on when her mother was in a state.

But even the thought of her mother, now, gave her a tugging feeling of loss, and she often found herself missing that shy look her mother used to send from under her eyebrows when she hoped to be forgiven for something, and her lighthearted, girlish laugh, and her floating soprano voice singing, “Write me a letter, send it by mail . . .”

Oh, sounds were what brought the past alive most clearly! “Take my hand,” she heard the back of the room boys crooning, “I’m a strange-looking parasite . . .” And then other, more anonymous voices, blurred and staticky like those ancient radio waves rumored to be traveling endlessly out into space. “One potato, two potato, three potato, four,” and “He-e-re’s Johnny! and “Instinctively, the arthritis sufferer rubs the afflicted area.”

From his bed across the room Peter gave a sudden sharp sigh, and Willa started. It took her a second to remember who he was.

~ Anne Tyler, Clockwork Dance

***

But your voice– never the rushing
Of a river underground,
Not the rising of the wind
In the trees before the rain,
Not the woodcock’s watery call,
Not the note the white-throat utters,
Not the feet of children pushing
Yellow leaves along the gutters
In the blue and bitter fall,
Shall content my musing mind
For the beauty of that sound
That in no new way at all
Ever will be heard again.

***

But the music of your talk
Never shall the chemistry
Of the secret earth restore.
All your lovely words are spoken.
Once the ivory box is broken,
Beats the golden bird no more.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, excerpt from “Elegy”

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