Some people have fetishes or obsessions that might seem slightly reasonable: shoes, Japanese women in cartoons and maybe even expensive cars imported by appointment. Me, I like ears. I've always liked ears and can even tell you it's not the shape of ears as much as thinking about all that happens inside of them. As if each of us posses not just one, but two black holes that are somehow connected to our inner selves. Or something like that.
What impresses me the most with ear usage are people who can hear perfect pitch. My grandmother, Anita, could be sitting at least 50 yards away while I was practicing the piano (as quietly as I could mind you for fear of her) and yell out if I was flat or sharp. I think it was her savant trait that she was never too shy to show off, well maybe not show off as much as make sure you were aware of it. Sure enough, she'd be listening to a radio program and tell you when someone was off, correct them by humming it correctly and then go back to listening. Just like that. Correct it and move on.
I cannot say I inherited anything remotely close to Anita's skill, but I 'd like to think in the handing down of genes, I share Anita's short stature and at least her attention to sound, minus the savant category. Musically, I never really showed much promise, I think Moonlight Sonata was my peak at the piano and for the clarinet, I think that peaked in eighth grade along with my interest in playing it at all. Despite my stint as the lead singer for a band, "Beige is the Color of Love" yes, that was in the 90's where we'd play songs like "My Mother's Broken Vase" I cannot say I've ever remotely excelled in music.
Despite all these attempts, I would like to think I could get myself out of a real sonnet bind if I needed too, Italian or Shakespearean. And like having the ability to hear perfect pitch, it's a skill rarely used for anything employable other than teaching. But really, let's face it, sonnet binds are quite rare if at all real. As you might imagine, I am completely making up "sonnet binds" in order to give myself some kind of credit for something.
What I do know is I can look at pictures of the Trevi Fountain, but it is the sound of an Italian ambulance or the scent of chestnuts even people yelling over each other in Italian, water running on concrete and falling onto cobblestones at night that make me miss Rome. You have to experience the sounds of a place to gather details that have an intimate connection to memory. And smells, well, that just takes you further into the black hole of nostalgia.
Nostalgia is something I associate with sounds as much as scent. This past week my mother, who recently purchased two goats, was talking to me on the phone and in the back ground I could hear her little baby kids talking back to her. It was all it took and suddenly I could smell the acid scent of their hair, see their beady black eyes and suddenly, I was back at the goat ranch.
Like my short stint as a lead singer, I once milked goats for a short period of time. Just one summer on a ranch in Southern Oregon. The plot isn't important behind the story of why I was there as much as how much I learned about goats. From milking them, to feeding baby goats with bottles to even learning their sounds and personalities. Goats are not pets. They are people dressed in fur suits with big ears. Yes, as you might imagine it, I was fascinated with their ears and with their sounds.
I will refrain from tangents or stories about the ranch at this moment. But what I do want to share is a poem. I know it is not a sonnet, but at least it is a poem about goats, for my mother, who's listened to my endless stories and rants and would bring home stethoscopes from work so I could practice listening. Enjoy.
Growing Up with Goats
The summer I chased a ghost out in a field
of cornflower blue, I learned to milk
a goat. No machine to rely on, just hands
finally not too small. And the ghost, or boy
more suited to Steinbeck, is nothing
but a backdrop to a barn full of ears
alert to all the wind sounds of goats.
Rough purr munching chip up to sky,
a rush of waves in a full stomach
giving all they have made in a day
back to hands above a glass jar.
When empty, goats want nothing to do
with you. They don't even want to look
at you, which is when I started to think
of my mother, when I started to be grateful
for my mother who has given all she has made
back, even when I just ate and left.
Sitting alone in a barn on the Oregon coast
with night shutting down sounds. Ghosts
silenced. The goats just keep eating. Stars turn up
their lights and the milky moon smiles
back with blue eyes, like you. You, so full.