I took this picture while walking on the streets of Anacostia during a Knowledge Commons DC documentary sound recording class in 2011. The building was abandoned with a very official looking notice on the side and these words on the front glass. On the first day of this two day class, our teacher, the illustrious sound artist Robert Peterson asked the class to disperse in the neighborhood, focussing on as many distinct sounds as we could, and recording them. I used my iphone to record the sounds. As I focussed on the voices of the neighborhood, for the first time in my life I realized the rich fabric of sounds that surround our daily lives, if only we are tuned in to listen. It was a transformational experience that made me a true “listener” ( I’m still learning). I wrote this poem to capture the experience. It is dedicated to KCDC and Rob who opened my ears! The title of the poem “Distance of Sound” comes from the walk to and from a distinctive drilling for a major construction work underway at a nearby site on the day of the class. As I walked on, the drilling sound acted as my guide.
Distance of Sound by Neha Misra
I travelled a distance to meet sound
The journey went inside me
The journey went outside me
Like two atoms of hydrogen and
one of oxygen coming together to
form water - The H The 2 The O as H2O
One of me merged with an ocean of sounds.
I became the thumping of a drill making
out with brown earth on a sunny Saturday afternoon
I became the deep breath
pulling me to the present moment. Now.
I became the boombox playing a distant song.
The distant song I went and found as I
walked closer and closer and closer.
So close that I felt it in my pulse.
I became the tapping sandals of the girl
in yellow shirt dancing as if boombox got
electricity right out of her.
I became bus tires screeching on dry grey road.
The car engine roaring. The van horn begging
for attention. The volunteer fire truck alarm says
someone needs me. Needs me NOW. A call for help.
I became the laughter of the
little girl in pink dress
swirling around the tree. This is fun.
This is free when nothing is.
I became the voice of men
passing time. Or maybe time was passing them.
The man in oversize safari walking like
a high tide wave. Half drunk half alert.
He says : Hey Baby!
The drill is making out with the brown earth far away.
I enter the gates of historic house of man who broke
the chains - the ones inside mind and out.
I became the sound of wind brushing against my face.
The house sits on a hill watching the neighborhood
like a guardian deity of a kind. I am ready for a hike.
I became the footsteps climbing
the stairs. The breath just a little short of itself.
I became the park service guide’s baritone voice.
I became the phone beeping in between. The door
opening. The air conditioner buzzing in the room
where he once sat - the man who broke the chains.
I stepped out to the backyard.
I became the sound of a rite of passage going on
under the shade of crisp green trees.
I became the vocal cords of a Jennifer Hudson
waiting to be found. The African drums beating.
The woman in white reciting a poem.
I became her poem. She called me ‘at the crossroads’.
I head back.
I became the birds chirping, crickets electrifying
the afternoon. The motorbike breezing through the
snailing traffic. I became the drill making out
with brown earth. No. This is not the climax yet.
I walk on.
I became the silence of the glass
front of worn down closed store.
The sticker on my face says :
It must have been here all along.
It must have been. I just heard.
Welcome to Anacostia.