In Their Own Words

Lauren Aliza Green on “On Acoustics”

On Acoustics

People are less likely to help each other
in loud cities, the ecologist said.

To describe a silence, identify first
what it’s not: the parade marching

beyond the window, the ocean’s dull fanfare.
Close up, we feel the shudders of sound—

the voice in a lover’s chest, elephant rumbles
too low for the human ear. It scares me to consider

how much I miss. In the library,
a man holds up a sign:


Here are my troubles,
please fold them neatly—

a paper crane, a lotus flower. The doe
must glance up from the stream if she wishes

to hear what lurks in shadow.
I watch the parade

pass on the street below as if it were
my life. What can it be for.

Reprinted from A Great Dark House. Copyright © 2022 by Lauren Aliza Green.

“On Acoustics”

As a child, I would beg my grandmother to regale me with tales from the month-long boat ride she and her five sisters took to Ellis Island during the Second World War. Her stories captivated my imagination, filling me with a preternatural sense of life’s fragility. She was taught to deny her identity if asked, knowing that such identification could lead to her untimely death. “Nobody—that’s my name,” Odysseus informs the Cyclops. “Nobody—so my mother and father call me.”

Nobody, nothing, no one—what does it mean, to live in fear of one’s own name; to cower at the sounds of history’s boots striking the gravel behind you; to feel bewildered inside a world that is both familiar and not? A Great Dark House grapples with these questions. Each poem intersects with and confounds the binary between the natural and artificial spheres. An ordinary piece of paper, creased to resemble an intricate flower… What lowly object cannot be made beautiful in capable hands?

“On Acoustics” relies on lists of negation. Describing a sensation by what it is not, like tracking the swirling matter around a black hole to calculate the mass of the void. I am obsessed, as Adam was, with naming: naming the animals, weather systems, landscapes both internal and ex. Indexing as a way of finding my bearings. I am also obsessed with the moment at which such names fail, the fraction of a second when signifiers cease to hold. In my poems, I am trying to capture and suspend that instance of breakage; to inhabit Odysseus when he renounces himself in order to save himself; to enact the annihilation of the ego as a means of salvation, or deliverance.

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