Two poems from Anne-Marie Thompson’s Mama Calls Me Crying
followed by a note on the author
The Secret Sound
My husband takes the radio
into the bathroom so he won’t
miss his chance to call in.
Yesterday scanning channels,
he heard the Secret Sound
and all the callers getting it wrong:
pogo stick, bug zapper,
tambourine, microwaved foil.
So today our house is all
KRTY, San Jose’s Hot Country,
all the time. The easy barstools
of a last-call pun and a predictable
melody help you make it through
the workday. Sometime today,
they’ll stop the music and play
the Secret Sound again. Current
jackpot: 1300 dollars for guessing
a 2-second, out-of-context clip.
My music school listening exams
were a string of 8-second clips
cut randomly from the hour-long
symphonies and concertos
we had to identify. Stripped
of his tremolos, Beethoven sounds
a lot like Mendelssohn, who,
stripped of his gondolas,
sounds a lot like any canal town—
Bangkok, Thailand, for example,
which can sound, in a given
8 seconds, like a tambourine,
a pogo stick, foil crinkling
and sparking. The real secret was,
the professor would have taken
any answer, especially if it
made him laugh. That semester,
his wife of twenty years had left him
for a woman, their next-door neighbor.
I learned this much later, when
I also learned that my grasp
of the musical canon was based on
flimsy answers I’d convinced myself
were right. The real secret is
to stick with Today’s
Hot Country, which pours out
all the hackneyed stories
you want to hear, helps drown
the blistering particular.
This calls for a pedal steel solo
and no further questions. Now
my husband is talking over
the shower, shouting his answer
into the phone. Before the door
even opens, releasing first
the white cloud of steam, and then
the naked man, I know he hasn’t
got it. The music’s back;
the jackpot keeps on rising.
The Arsonist Ambushes the Firefighters
so I call my brother, asking him
to become, additionally, bulletproof.
A human can only worry so many
possibilities into superpowers, can only
doubt the rules of order so long before
kindergarteners wear body armor to class
and the whole neighborhood burns,
sympathetic as a virus. We move forward,
which means back to our pact
with the world. When faced with disaster,
our brains turn first to anything else:
trusting that the open door and ransacked
dresser mean not a robbery, but
a forgetful morning, the dog feeling contrary;
gunshots near the burning house mean
a door knocked down, a hoseline bursting.
The way that I trust implicitly
the uniqueness of my hotel keycard; and so,
seeing the latched chain, and then
the elderly woman beyond, gasping in the bed,
paperback splayed on the floor,
I think first: Grandmama, here? And later:
No place is truly safe. And much later:
This is my room, lying down, finally, to read.
The Secret Sound first appeared in Literary Matters;
The Arsonist Ambushes the Firefighters first appeared in Poetry Northwest.
Anne-Marie Thompson lives with her husband and son in Syracuse. Her poetry collection, Audiation, won the 2013 Donald Justice Award. Recent musical theatre collaborations with composer Ian Brandon will premiere in San Diego and London in 2020.