The Sound Of Time

~for George Zhen, who “lives in sound”

“The clock ticked. His father had once shown him what made a clock tick: it was the sound of a toothed wheel escaping from first one and then another little hook. The sound of time was the sound of a continual effort to escape from something that held you back.” ~ Steven Millhauser, “The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne”

12 a.m.

Crickets trill, thick in night blooming jasmine; the turning of pages, burning of wicks, the party somewhere is just barely getting started, tocks continue to tick.

1 a.m.

The ceiling fan: the insomniac’s metronome, counting heartbeats. I wonder if I may be stuck on repeat, this living in awe.

2 a.m.

Mom yells my name, a nightmare in my ear as if leaning over me or from across the room or from across the universe or from Georgia.

3 a.m.

Flapping clacks end the film reel; reset, realign, rewind. A fleeting memory – South Beach, 1995, 11th and Collins, the corner window of David’s Café, after work and wandering streets, sipping my steaming cortadito. Multi-toned café con leche cabbies on the corner from Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba, multi-accented Spanish, pastel colored guayaberas, someone orders a batido de mamey, Marlboros and Camels, another grabs a bag of sticky pastelitos. Beats and bass traffic the rhythm through every passing fad, revive every dying day. I don’t want to go home. . . I yawn. All of that is gone.

4 a.m.

Dogs whimper, sprinklers shower the grass and shrubs. Flicked lighter-flame lights bright the end of a neighbor’s first cigarette, an audible sigh.

5 a.m.

Mode ani lefanecha, alive again, alive! A still purpling, umber sky. Toilets flush, showers run, arteries open wide, here comes the sun. Scrape, scrape butter round toasted bagel halves. Preparando la cafecito, quick-stir the espumita – silver spoon ringing the glass mug – the first drops into the sugar to make the syrup – the secret of all good Cuban coffee – as eggs scramble, sausages sizzle.

6 a.m.

Rain plays steel drums on hoods of cars and aluminum porch roofs. Breezes whisk wind chimes aflutter like boxes of broken flutes hanging from trees. Palm fronds clap, tricycle bells trinkle, and leaves slap against window panes. Somewhere sirens. And crossing the sky – the propeller planes.

6:45 a.m.

A mustered minyan mumbles, attuned without me.

7 a.m.

Kitchen cabinet cumbia, front door to car door salsa, engine revving rumba. Sky alight, sparrows in flight, today’s song brought to you by rote and by habit. Like every other day of the year, again I don’t make it to “Hodu…”

7-8 a.m.

Bulldozers rumble, cranes cinch, trucks bleet!-bleet!-bleet! And the jackhammer pounds to pieces the concrete. Somewhere school bells ring, lockers clatter, nervous pens repeatedly click; sucking smoke, popping pills, mainline caffeine; the crosswalk a cartoon of marching bedraggled teens.

9 a.m.

In offices everywhere, coffee machines gaggle and drip. Gossiping in lines or online, some people count children, some people count divorces, some people count zeroes – in the end, they’re all keeping a beat. Scratching pens, jabbing keys.

9:30 a.m.

“You are Everything. I am not worthy, I am not worthy,” in prayer. “Help me be worthy, help me be worthy,” in supplication.

11 a.m.

Somewhere a splash in a blue pool and parakeets squawk. Elsewhere a rush of hushed surf, the impossible Atlantic stops at my toes in whispers, the heat of the sun cooks into my skin, tinkling like sand falling in glass. Banner planes spit in the wind and orange, low flying Coast Guard helicopters blast over whining motorboats and jet skis. Toddlers screech with joy as the great water recedes from their bow legged bull-dog stances.

11:02 a.m.

Blink and I’m not poolside or at the beach. New cut grass cushions my gaze up on high. Boundless blue, fish-scale clouds, and propeller planes across the sky. Neighbors’ dogs bark at nothing and the air around my nose is ticking with the flapping wings of a dragonfly.

12 p.m.

Propeller planes across the sky. I’m snoring on vacation until my dog’s nose sniffs in my ear. “What’s the blessing for seeing a rainbow?” She just nudges my hand.

2 p.m.

Bananagram tiles clacking like ceramic dominoes and Rummy pieces on the dining room table. Babbe and Zeide laugh from their own places at the tables in shamayim.

2:30 p.m.

Noticeably absent: school bells, students’ impervious complaints.

3 p.m.

Mom texts. Dad calls. Either about the other. And they both know I’ve let their calls go. The oldest, I’m a pro at disappointing. A propeller plane crosses the sky.

3:15 p.m.

Marni and Chana leave to a party, “Goodbye! Love you! Have fun! Be careful! Goodbye!”

4 p.m.

Noah comes home from a friend’s. Hug, hi, shuts his door. Strums his guitar.

5 p.m.

Wind picks up again. The last propeller plane hurries south.

6 p.m.

Umber sky bruises dark. Palm fronds clap like they do. Lightning precedes thunder with fewer and fewer moments between.

6:02 p.m.

Watching lighting, living in awe, pop open an Innis & Gunn rum aged brew. Pull up a chair beside me and call for Noah to join.

6:05 p.m.

Strobe lights vibrate the eastern sky. Wind and rumble. Smell the phosphorous, like garlic sautéed in olive oil.

6:07 p.m.

I offer him a sip. “Sure,” he says, and takes it. I marvel at the space he occupies. So much of him.

6:11 p.m.

I ask, “What’s the blessing on lightning?”

6:11:20 p.m.

He tries to teach it to me. Soon, I’ll forget. I’m simply astonished at his enormity, his reality. That he’s bigger than me.

6:12 p.m.

We say the blessing together.

6:30 p.m.

Chana calls, “Ta, we’re on our way home. Please say tehillim for us. It’s so scary! The thunder is so loud and there’s constant lightning. We’re right in it, right under it.”

6:31 p.m.

My daughter’s voice broke open my heart: prayer taken from the page, taken from my lips in rhapsody on high by the storm. Noah says his own as well, whispered under his breath, lips moving familiar over the syllables. Then we daven mincha.

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7 p.m.

“Baruch Hashem, you’re home! Baruch Hashem! Baruch Hashem!” in the love-crush of a family hug.

8 – 9 p.m.

Slice tomatoes, slice onions, chop carrots, crisp lettuce, laugh away rattled nerves with a late dinner.

9:30 p.m.

Once upon a time, her door needed WD-40.

“Hey, Chana.”

“Hi, Ta.”

“Whatchya doin?”

“Playing a game on my iPod.”

“Why aren’t you reading?”

“I finished the book I was reading and I have nothing else to read.”

“Nothing else to read?”

Thumbing away, “Nope.”

I make my way to the book shelf, pick out L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Back in her room: “Have you read this?”

“Oh, Ta, can’t I just play?”

“Sure. Just read three pages. Like or dislike, just three pages. Then you can play.”


10 p.m.

“Goodnight, kids!”

“Goodnight, Ma!”

“Goodnight, Ta!”

“Goodnight, Papo!”

“Goodnight, baby-girl!”

10:30 p.m.

“Ta, I’m on page fifty-three!”

“Awesome! It’s time for bed now.”

“Can’t I read some more?”

“It’s time for bed.”

“What language does Dante write in?”

“Dante? Let me see that…”

11 p.m.

Pages turn, pen dents paper, dogs whine.

12 a.m.

Crickets trill, thick in night blooming jasmine; the turning of pages, burning of wicks, the party somewhere is just barely getting started, tocks continue to tick. The ceiling fan turns, counting, counting. I turn it off and lay my head down, hear my easing pulse in the pillow. The sound of the effort to escape is also the sound of the effort to know where you are now. In perpetuity, that effort, unstoppable.



~Photo of Danny Golani in Uman taken by Ariel Gomez and used with permission.