Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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The Doctors Say It’s Tinnitus

The static of old recording dulls the crests
of the notes, but it’s unmistakable: Chopin’s
B-flat Nocturne, the 1965 Rubinstein version,
plays on a loop in my ears. This is why
I sometimes can’t hear you, or hear pants
instead of stamps. Hushed beneath the melody,
but distinct, Rubinstein’s fingernails tap the keys—
a faraway woodpecker pecking a soft-wood tree,
like pine—and after so many listenings,
I notice the chirp of an unoiled damper sounding
at a frequency I’ve been long unable to hear.
It’s like that afternoon we broke into the music
school—this was the piece I played you,
the one I still knew by ear. The pedal squeaked
like rubber soles on linoleum. I played louder
to muffle it, my fingers somehow still dexterous,
my trills clean and bright. You never asked me
to be quieter, to be cautious. Now I strain to hear
anything over the music. Strange for my cochlea—
so like the strings of a piano, but immersed
in fluid—to be struck by this faint, familiar
chirping. A threatening squeak, your quiet urging.    

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