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Belonging: A Mixed Medium

A new "department." A gray hive
         of furniture, public paper-clips, warm
copiers and elevator shafts, paths beaten
         into the linoleum by strangers
who forget they are strangers
         to some. I haven't even arrived
but I can hear its hum. Its pulse
         feels like my pulse, removed, alive
in layers of tissue paper, rustling deep inside
         an echo. I used to think an echo
was humiliating—made a sound
         a stranger to itself. But how small, how
reversed. An echo takes a voice
         and throws the world
behind it, into its limited sense
         of self—shows us how we'll sound
in the long run.

Locally, it's easy to feel
a muffled, untested somewhere.
         The old department, for example,
kept me close, within ear's reach
         of its offices for a while.
It sent transmissions daily to my "inbox,"
         left thin, un-creased sheets
of paper in a cubby of swirled wood
         my hand was sure to find
and enter. And belonging was never an item
         up for discussion—how
embarrassing, like income to a banker
         at dinner-time, like thought
to a thinking brain. But perhaps
         we should have mentioned it, just
once (for safe-keeping).

When you are alone you can see
         the bright echoes of things
shuddering outward, pressing
         their cold relevance
through and past you, then past
         any reason for the sound
to have flown from its source
         in the first place. But is this true
sight? Is this wavy gray grief
         the bare screen that hosts all
life's hullabaloo, muting everything
         (eventually) into its static
inward gaze? Or have I missed
         the point. Am I missing
outside the lighthoused point
         of life. Is the screen
mere formal blank that lends
         the royal middle ground
some good contrast, a resting place
         before what really counts
reels, projects, radiates, draws us
         close to the volcano
of original sound, makes us
         feel things again?

Or maybe department is a true measure
         only of where we've been. And
(if we're lucky) how many blistering rungs
         of echo we'll have to grip
before the climb softens horizontally
         to a tide of local ripples,
magnetized and warm and given
         to small murmurings that make sense
of those who have found the shore
         and hear its sounds
as the slowly un-stunning pulse
         of their singular lives.

Jessica Garratt

Southwest Review

Volume 98, Number 1

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