Noise by Laura Martin


Visiting a friend in St. Louis, I attended a Buddhist service in a storefront distinguished only by a string of prayer flags. Distant traffic and bright bird calls filter through the booming-evangelical-pastor voice of the Lama, skyped in from Minnesota. We recited Sanskrit and English in a call and response reminiscent of and utterly unlike the hymns and prayers of the churches of my youth. In that moment I am restless, but in remembering I feel at peace. Back home in South Carolina, I walk my dog in the woods where the only sounds are tree frog chirps and leaves crunching under my tennis shoes. My dog is terrified of car sounds, so we walk at the National Historic Site in the town of Ninety-Six, half an hour from home. She’s nervous near the entrance where black cutouts of soldiers lurk in the trees and logging trucks rumble past, but once we enter the woods her tail rises, and her prancing turns soundless. Back home, I am the loudest thing, my typing surprisingly creaky, rising above the refrigerator’s hum, the grinding whir of the electric heater. The townhomes across the street are being reroofed in staccato bursts amplified by the general quiet. Some nights, a cat paces in the narrow grass alley between my home and the one beside it, howling mournfully. When she stops, the quiet becomes a question. Is she still there? Will she call again? There’s a game I play with the dog where I throw a piece of kibble into the air and she freezes, ears cocked forward, so she can find the morsel by sound. If it hits the rug, it’s almost inaudible. If it lands on the parquet, it skitters away from the point of contact, confusing her. If she can’t find a piece after a few seconds, she cheats and uses her nose. The game reminds me of one played during halftime at basketball games at the college where I teach. A twenty-dollar bill is dropped somewhere on the court and a blindfolded student searches on hands and knees while the audience cheers to guide them, the meaning of their excitement lost to the volume. The student almost never finds the money. I once had a poetry teacher who said that negation simultaneously creates and erases, giving you both a thing and its absence. I think of her as I try a guided meditation where the instructor begins by listing potential difficulties. You may need to move around; you may need to laugh; you may need to scream. His suggestions make the silence and stillness more bearable.