by Dana Kroos
According to Merriam-Webster:
acous·tics Pronunciation: \e’-küs-tiks\ Function: noun plural
1 singular in construction : a science that deals with the
production, control, transmission, reception, and effects of
2 also acoustic : qualities that determine the ability of an
enclosure to reflect sound waves in such a way as to produce
The relationship between environment and sound is learned—
trial and error. Sing
from the diaphragm. Do not
let the voice escape,
force it from your lungs,
Feel it expand as it leaves you.
Listen to the resonance grow and resound.
Create flowing vibration: the deep
brassy reflection of ancient stone, hand-formed steel,
cavernous darkness. Desire
the amplification that comes without dissonance,
which allows you to hear you own voice as though
it lives independent of you, as though
it goes to work, sleeps, dreams, woos, despairs and
overjoys in the complexities of its own history.
In the Cape
a white woman discovered
a native garbage man who sang—
an African Pavarotti.
She convinced the city opera house to grant him
a performance, for one night.
She bought him a tuxedo,
cut his hair. The news showed
the native man singing as he worked,
the sound of dumping garbage crushed beneath
his tenor. We were all amazed.
In school we studied the planets,
the first landing on the moon,
the silence of Apollo 13,
the tragedy of the Challenger exploding—
a firework again and again on
the informative video.
There is no sound in outer space. Sound can only travel
when there is a medium for it to travel through.
The class asked:
What void is so desperate
that even a voice cannot escape?
My people are English, exiled
in the 1600’s when the king discarded subjects:
poor, sick, some thieves, some worse—not many.
We were put on ships, sent off
to anyplace deserted enough to take us,
sometimes out to sea until supplies ran thin, left
to chase rats, drink sea water, haunt the hollow waves
twelve generations later—cruise ships trampling
thousands of feet overhead.
Some arrived in Australia, Africa, America,
in jails, in towns, discovering new lands, running
for office, crowding subway stations, wearing printed tee-shirts
with retro logos, worrying about cell phone companies
and losing their latest pounds.
The only proof my people have: a broken stopwatch
passed through first born sons, reporting: March 7th, 3:35—
there being no difference between day and night.
Still, we felt nostalgic when deep-sea divers found the wreck,
St. George III, the prison ship that had caught fire
off the coast centuries earlier.
In the midst of an uprising a cargo full of prisoners went free
in time to choose to a death in flames or water.
People on shore watched, breathless, only wondering
if they heard screams skimming across the sea.
Proof is what’s known:
The speed of any wave depends upon the properties
of the medium through which it passes. Rigid materials
maintain their shape; elastic materials deform readily.
The speed of a sound wave through air: 343 m/s.
The speed of a sound wave through water: 1433 m/s.
The speed of a sound wave through iron: 5130 m/s.
My mother recited prayers in the ocean
because she liked the sound.
Dividing “Amen” between air and water:
“A” to the sky, “men” bubbling out
into the cold Atlantic.
I would sink with her, close my eyes and listen
echoes, seeming to travel great distances, over time, recalling
all that the ocean had allowed and claimed.
From the Cape, the broadcast of the national opera
travelled across wires to our waiting eyes.
On the stage, framed in velvet, under lights,
the native garbage man bowed.
A man whose people had never been cast-out, but burned—
instead—where they stood. He opened his mouth,
but no sound came.
The audience waited.
Eyes looked away.
Of course, Teacher said.