Bryan D. Price ~ The History of Sound

Last night I had a dream that I was dying or about to die. Some organs had been removed from my body. They looked like lit­tle wood­en knobs. They were said to be lungs. Excuse the pas­sive voice, but dreams are ruled by the pas­sive voice—a god-like force by which knowl­edge is pre­sent­ed to the imag­i­na­tion. I was liv­ing in some kind of dor­mi­to­ry and some­one was there with me. A part­ner or mate. Someone who cared about me in a deep and pro­found way (or had). A lover I sup­pose. Or a for­mer one. We had watched some kind of talk or per­for­mance and then walked back to our dor­mi­to­ries, which were next door to each oth­er. It’s unclear to me as to why I’m so sure it was a dor­mi­to­ry and not a hotel, but again, such knowl­edge is just tak­en for grant­ed in dreams. It seemed (like many dreams) that we were liv­ing in some kind of utopi­an (or dystopi­an) soci­ety. Not quite real or actu­al but a sim­u­lacrum of what I’ve come to think of as real. Like a movie of one’s life. This per­son or lover who was with me told me to get into the bath and I did. As I lay in it I knew that I would die and could feel the end com­ing. The true and actu­al end of all things. It was an aston­ish­ing feel­ing. A moment of true recog­ni­tion and clar­i­ty. A kind of sum­ming up of this whole detestable enter­prise that nev­er­the­less one feels morose about end­ing. I had to get out of the bath so that I could either say good­bye or give this per­son the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch me die. But then, of course, I awoke and entered back into the life of the liv­ing. The so-called real world with all of its demands and lone­li­ness. In a room with white walls going yel­low at the edges. The win­dow open and bird sounds trick­ling in. I was hap­py to be alive, to not be dying. But not as hap­py as I should have been. Something hung over me all day. That dream and the close­ness of death brought on a kind of sad­ness or ace­dia that was man­i­fest­ed in my feel­ing tired, run down. I sat in a chair and stared into the dis­tance. Then I just lay on the floor. Sometimes the body doesn’t seem to have the abil­i­ty to remain erect. It col­laps­es or crum­ples. Nothing dra­mat­ic, just iner­tia tak­ing over. The blinds were not drawn but I could still see life mov­ing ever so slight­ly on the street. For what­ev­er rea­son I remem­bered a list or index I had seen. Sometimes mem­o­ries just appear. Or reap­pear. It’s reflex­ive. Often an act of pos­ses­sion. This list was called notable peo­ple exe­cut­ed by gar­rot­ing. I had seen it at a tor­ture muse­um. It accom­pa­nied a series of wood­cuts. There were two ele­ments fea­tured in all the woodcuts—soldiers and Christ. The sol­diers held guns with bay­o­nets attached to them. Some wore tur­bans. Priests held cross­es as did the vic­tims them­selves. One held a cross in his lap and had bare feet. For what­ev­er rea­son I thought I’d like not to be exe­cut­ed in my bare feet. Seems like adding insult to injury. I don’t usu­al­ly go around in my bare feet. Something vul­ner­a­ble about it. Many of the vic­tims wore hoods. As did the exe­cu­tion­er. There was some­thing odd about the ways in which good and evil were min­gled, even mir­rored in these images. Or sup­posed good and sup­posed evil. The hid­den mean­ing seemed to be that in the end, we’re all the same except for some have the pow­er of life and death over oth­ers. And that pow­er is mys­ti­cal or has no mean­ing what­so­ev­er. Some acci­dent of his­to­ry. And then I remem­bered the exe­cu­tion­er sto­ry from the St. Petersburg Dialogues. I had read it in a sum­mer pro­gram that I attend­ed called Conservatism and Religion. We read some things like that and talked about them while sit­ting around a large oval table. I had the small­est shred of hope then about the future. But I think that place extin­guished it. I slept in an actu­al dor­mi­to­ry there. It was in an enor­mous stone build­ing. I went to where the wash­ing machines were and laid on a leather couch so I could fall asleep to the sound of the machines turn­ing. There is some­thing uncan­ny about our pact with the mech­a­nized world, our abil­i­ty to live in peace with the dynamo (at least at the out­set). As I was being lulled to sleep by those whirring machines it was hard to imag­ine a world with­out elec­tric­i­ty or gas pow­er and I thought to myself, the his­to­ry of sound has yet to be prop­er­ly writ­ten, but I am not the one to do it. I long for those moments of full release, like jump­ing into an abyss. Now I wouldn’t dare to sleep in a pub­lic place, but then I just let some­thing like an erot­ic feel­ing take over and gave myself to that leather couch. It struck me lat­er that I had been warned about this out­come. I remem­ber a men­tor of mine. Though that’s such an over­ly used word. He was a teacher and I was a stu­dent. He was unkempt, with dan­druff. Not social­ly awk­ward but just the kind of per­son who seemed at ease with that part of him­self. His office was stuffed with books—books on labor and Marxism, books on the American west. There’s no future in this, he told me. It was like being told the bar had run out of liquor. Go do some­thing else, he warned. I imag­ined I had cho­sen a path that wasn’t even that ambi­tious, but the cul­ture and the econ­o­my changes in unan­tic­i­pat­ed ways and along with it the world (and your place in it). Could I be a lawyer or let­ter car­ri­er, he won­dered. He had a friend, he told me. They were very close. Their wives were close. Their chil­dren were like cousins or even sib­lings. They’d eat at each other’s hous­es and go on camp­ing trips togeth­er. I could eas­i­ly imag­ine these two cou­ples and their chil­dren. Precocious chil­dren, no doubt. And their hous­es would smell of cat piss from the untend­ed lit­ter box and there would be no tele­vi­sion, but per­haps a loom or even a harp­si­chord. Colorful afghans on the couch­es, a few stained Persian rugs, and art on the walls. I grew up in a house with no art on the walls. Just fam­i­ly pho­tos, grim and unen­light­en­ing. They lived, he and his friend, prac­ti­cal­ly across the street from each oth­er in Moscow, Idaho until the friend shot him­self through the mouth with a .38 revolver that his wife had bought him for his thir­ty-sec­ond birth­day. It was mid­win­ter and the snow was up to here, he said, indi­cat­ing some­place above his head. It was unclear if this was the prod­uct of the eso­teric tenets that attend our cho­sen voca­tion or the harsh cli­mate. This path, he said, was lit­tered with such sto­ries. Tragedies com­pound­ed by new and com­plex forms of debt. You have to learn how to live with or man­age the fear. Repress or some­how stow it away some­where where it doesn’t see the light of day. Revealing itself only in dreams.


Bryan D. Price’s work has been pub­lished in Diagram, Posit, Ucity Review, Rhino Poetry, Summerset Review, and else­where. His col­lec­tion of ele­gies, A Plea for Secular Gods will be pub­lished by What Books Press in 2023. He lives in San Diego, with his wife, Claire, a dog (who shall remain name­less), and a cat named for Pina Bausch.