March 23rd, 2006



Debra Frasier illustration

The Animal That Drank Up Sound
by William Stafford

One day across the lake where echoes come now
an animal that needed sound came down. He gazed
enormously, and instead of making any, he took
away from, sound: the lake and all the land
went dumb. A fish that jumped went back like a knife,
and the water died. In all the wilderness around he
drained the rustle from the leaves into the mountainside
and folded a quilt over the rocks, getting ready
to store everything the place had known; he buried—
thousands of autumns deep—the noise that had used to come there.

Then that animal wandered on and began to drink
the sound out of all the valleys—the croak of toads,
and all the little shiny noise grass blades make.
He drank till winter, and then looked out one night
at the stilled places guaranteed around by frozen
peaks and held in the shallow pools of starlight.

It was finally tall and still, and he stopped on the highest
ridge, just where the cold sky fell away
like a perpetual curve, and from there he walked on silently,
and began to starve.

When the moon drifted over the night the whole world lay
just like the moon, shining back that still
silver, and the moon saw its own animal dead
on the snow, its dark absorbent paws and quiet
muzzle, and thick, velvet, deep fur.

After the animal that drank sound died, the world
lay still and cold for months, and the moon yearned
and explored, letting its dead light float down
the west walls of canyons and then climb its delighted
soundless way up the east side. The moon
owned the earth its animal had faithfully explored.
The sun disregarded the life it used to warm.

But on the north side of a mountain, deep in some rocks,
a cricket slept. It had been hiding when that animal
passed, and as spring came again this cricket waited,
afraid to crawl out into the heavy stillness.
Think how deep the cricket felt, lost there
in such a silence—the grass, the leaves, the water,
the stilled animals all depending on such a little
thing. But softly it tried— "Cricket!" —and back like a river
from that one act flowed the kind of world we know,
first whisperings, then moves in the grass and leaves;
the water splashed, and a big night bird screamed.

It all returned, our precious world with its life and sound,
where sometimes loud over the hill the moon,
wild again, looks for its animal to roam, still,
down out of the hills, any time.
But somewhere a cricket waits.

It listens now, and practices at night.
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cocked and loaded


I fight my inner packrat constantly. I can't remember if it was before or after my father died that my mom told us that he, a notorious and shameless packrat of the First Order, had refused to throw away, among other equally horrifying things, boxes of moldy college textbooks from the 60s that had been caught in a basement-flooding years ago and 10-year old road maps and box after box of computer cables and ports and parts. Boxes of pens. Boxes of paper. Boxes of old magazines. I don't think my father ever threw anything away that he thought might come in handy again and he thought EVERYTHING would come in handy again.

Obviously, since he died well before his time, he was wrong. We pitched it all, or at least most of it. My mom is STILL, 9 years after his death, going through and throwing away things that my father thought were necessary to save. I'm sure he is still spinning with wrath and horror.

I have always had the same need to squirrel things away, to save them for myself, not just for coming in handy, but for returning to, and for gazing upon...things that make up my own private collections, my personal galleries and chronicles. I don't save the sorts of things my father did; for whatever reason I have NO problem pitching that kind of crap and I don't really consider myself sentimental about 'things' in general, although I removed a couple of stuffed animals from the bag of discards that my children had decided they'd outgrown, because stuffed animals are worse than CRACK where I'm concerned and I have a heavy habit which I hide by pretending all those damn plush critters belong to them and not me, but I'm so lying and they know it. Mamas, don't let your babies get started on the stuffed animal habit! It leads nowhere but to devastation and despair!

Where was I?

Oh yes, squirreling things away. In my time I've saved things like miscellaneous playing cards (for the designs on the backs) and stickers, and notes a flirty but unknown boy wrote to me when we shared a desk during high school; him in 4th period and me in 6th period, and there was nothing like the exhilaration of putting my hand in the desk and finding an intricately folded, blue-ballpoint-penned missive written to ME because he thought I was cute and I didn't even know WHO HE WAS, O! the mystery and the delicious thrill!

I do go on wild cleaning, purging binges in which I ferociously attack the closets and the pantry and the drawers and the shelves and ruthlessly clear out everything that is old, unused, out of style, never-to-be-read-again or just plain tiresome. My family lives in fear of these cleaning-tsunamis, but I love the way they flow in, pushing aside everything in their path, and then ebb, leaving things empty and open and spacious and READY TO BE FILLED AGAIN.

I save poems and quotations that move me, writing them down in the close embrace of carefully chosen blank journals with lovely covers. I rip funny stories and pretty pictures and interesting essays out of magazines and stuff them into notebooks. I set aside drawings and art that my children create, and my friends, and my own. I've filled numerous shadowboxes with the ephemera and memories of travels and places and people. I fill photo albums. I save books I love. I have 4 boxes of beautiful clothing that I can't fit into and can't bear to part with because I have been unable to be ruthless ENOUGH. Things that I have moved countless times from closet to closet to closet, through a successive series of moves, up to and including the one across the ocean.

Thank god for those moves, I sigh, because I can't imagine where I would have put the accumulation of years otherwise. And yet, if you've seen my house, I don't think you would call it cluttered or full of STUFF.* Well, maybe you would. I'm certainly no minimalist. :)

Nowadays a lot of my packrat energy is diverted into VIRTUAL saving, which helps. I save art from online galleries and poetry and quotations, and emails and journal entries; once in awhile burning them onto a CD and then carefully labeling it and putting it into a scrapbook on my shelf. The cleaning/purging binges happen here, too, though. My overly organizing, tidy Virgo self can't go too long without putting her foot down and bringing things back to a manageable level.

I'm not just saving things for the sake of saving them. I don't necessarily think they will come in handy someday. I'm KEEPING them. I'm ARCHIVING them. I'm PRESERVING them. It's more than a matter of "one man's trash is another man's treasure," I think. Still, I fight it constantly. Some days I win, some days I lose. But often I wonder...when I'm getting rid of things, am I really winning? Does it just depend on what it is I'm getting rid of? What do you think? And do you think there's a cure for the stuffed-animal-sickness or am I doomed forever?

A Day Full of Good Food, Good Company and Good Wishes to the Birthday Boy, my Baby Brother: johann_metzger!

Wishes for a Wonderful, Warm and Bonny Birthday to emmabovary!

*full of books, yes, there's no denying that.
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