Kate Partridge: Bell, I Like the Muscles
on That One
, & Let’s Imagine

Bell

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The man downstairs begins singing
Springsteen at 6, as the one upstairs
sings prayers until interrupted
by the one of us who has not yet
adopted a practice: the baby,
who experiments boldly with volume,
timbre, and timing before
she finds a note that suits her
and cradles it with a full tongue.

∗    ∗    ∗

The length of a human baby’s vocal cords is 2–3 millimeters. Babies vibrate them very hard—harder than an adult could without injuring herself—to produce a grating sound, designed like the roar of a lion to generate response.

To replicate this effect, you can purchase training videos for rock vocalists called The Zen of Screaming and The Zen of Screaming 2.

In an interview, the proprietor says, “A scream should never feel like it sounds. It should never feel angry,” before recounting an anecdote in which she yells at a woman in a parking lot.

∗    ∗    ∗

After much exploration, Alyse finds a pair of earplugs that allows her to sleep through the baby’s crying: Skull Screws, which have a “tough look” intended for musicians to wear while playing.

Alyse wears them to bed. They claim a protection level of 30 decibels.

Baby’s cry: 110 dB.
Rock concert: 110 dB.

A sensation level of 110 dB is rated by sound-proofers as “deafening.” 130 dB means “physical pain.”

But they have an interest in the matter.

∗    ∗    ∗

The bel was proposed by Bell Telephone Laboratories as a unit for rating the efficiency of telephone transmissions, but the decibel (one-tenth of a bel) is the most commonly used variant.

Bell, of course, for Alexander Graham.

The decibel has never been adopted by the International System of Units as standard, although petitions to include it have been considered.

∗    ∗    ∗

Decibel ratings of things
in our apartment:

Decibel ratings of things
not in our apartment:

40 dB: conversation
50 dB: air conditioner
60 dB: hair dryer
60 dB: stereo on average volume
65 dB: alarm clock
75 dB: flushing toilet
80 dB: ringing telephone
80 dB: cocktail party

10 dB: rustle of leaves
50 dB: washing machine
      (related: 80 dB: laundromat)
50 dB: open office space
90 dB: subway train
112 dB: stereo on high volume
120 dB: ambulance siren
140 dB: airplane taking off
150 dB: firecracker
166 dB: handgun

∗    ∗    ∗

In the room with a chimney, we hear
songs in the night that begin like wailing
but rush into praise in the early morning,
when we imagine the mother returns.

We imagine her progress. We find a clip
called “What Is In My Attic?” and play
the squeals of squirrels and the sharp tugs
of birds on the hearth for comparison.

We decide: bats. The landlord installs
a one-way flap and one by one the voices
soften, become more distinct as others
emerge outside, gasping: I have forgotten

my keys and now I’m outside in
a towel. But it isn’t that. We have never
needed keys, nor locked the doors.

∗    ∗    ∗

As a child, Bell realized that if he was playing a piano
in one room, a piano in an adjoining room would begin

playing the same chords. Of course, we know
“Mr. Watson, come here, I want you,” and the question

of whether he or his partner made it to the patent office
first. Minute differences in their models are evident

in the 6-page application (2 pages of drawn models)
on file for “Improvement in Telegraphy.”

∗    ∗    ∗

I have guilt about my suspicion of this baby, since I, as a baby, was both jaundiced and colicky—a delight, I’m sure.

∗    ∗    ∗

Once, I had a cold and my father mailed me a neti pot. The attached note said that he did not usually put much faith in Eastern medicine, but thought I might like this, “since you’re a communist.”

∗    ∗    ∗

Let’s take a moment to imagine Bell and his bushy hair
trotting down the street toward the patent office, bursting in
the double glass doors, and thrusting the application into the hands
of the first available clerk, some befuddled young man

with wire-rimmed glasses and a keen interest in chemistry,
fresh from Ohio. Historical inaccuracy: I imagine all scientists
as my father. The clerk’s wavy shoulder-length haircut
is one such anachronism you’ll have to excuse.

∗    ∗    ∗

You see how this problematizes things:

            My father/Madame Curie dies of radiation sickness.
            My father/Tycho Brahe experiences kidney failure after attending a dinner party.
            My father/Watson & Crick discovers the structure of DNA.
            My father/Robert Bunsen blows out his right eye with cyanide.
            My father/Carl Sagan explains the universe.
            My father/Jane Goodall roams the rainforests.
            My father/Henry Ford says that if he could be reincarnated, he would like it
                        to be as Henry Ford.
            My father/Nikola Tesla tests alternating currents.
            My father/Rachel Carson takes a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.
            My father/Galileo blinds himself by staring into the sun.

∗    ∗    ∗

There’s a song in the musical Street Scene, which Langston Hughes wrote the libretto for, in which two nursemaids bring their charges to the scene of a murder so they can compare the tabloid pictures to the actual building fa├žade where a man was shot climbing down by his lover’s husband.

The nurses offer one baby phrases like “Drowse, tiny tot. It shows how they got shot” before the second baby starts crying and they switch to “Shut up, you lug!”

∗    ∗    ∗

Alyse believes that the baby is too old to cry so much, and so frequently. She thinks she can identify the baby’s age based on the cry’s volume, and proposes one: 18 months.

We begin a surveillance effort to observe its size, since it rarely leaves the apartment.

One day, we witness the baby looking down upon us on the sidewalk as we carry in groceries.

As soon as it spots us, the blinds flip shut.

Alyse notes that it is large, and can close the blinds—too old to cry so much.

∗    ∗    ∗

Child Development:

“Infant age, and its associated acoustic features, seems to be a more important determinant of adults' perception of emotion intensity than are such adult characteristics as gender or infant-care experience.”

∗    ∗    ∗

I only have dreams in short intervals
of half-awareness in the morning—
as in, when the baby has awoken me
10 minutes before the alarm clock.
In such a moment, I imagine this:

I drag a piano to Chicago using a piece of string,
and when I arrive, I find that the house
I am to deliver it to is already occupied
by a woman playing a piano, in the exact
place I wish to place mine.

∗    ∗    ∗

The actual transmission of a sound through a wall varies greatly
depending on the sound’s pitch.
A human’s ability to hear a range of pitches decreases with age.

The system of sound rating designed in 1961 for building materials,
Sound Transmission Class, only tests for the ability of walls
and windows to muffle sounds above 125 dB.

For sounds below that threshold, materials with a lower rating
may actually be more effective. It’s an algorithm,
so, for the lay person, not particularly useful.

∗    ∗    ∗

Bell’s father was a professor of elocution.

One might assume, therefore, that no sound was lost
in the initial transmission due to human error.

One might also assume that no relationship
can be derived from this relationship at all.

When the device reached the public, Edison’s model
was initially more popular because it was louder.




POEMS:

I Like the Muscles
on That One

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Andrew takes us to the Phillies game to watch
the players slam balls toward the outfield.

The muscles are the active organs of locomotion,

endowed with the property of contractability.
Andrew hopes to be endowed with the ability

to pick up a friend of a friend in the sports bar
on the second level of the stadium,

so he wears the tightest shirt he owns.

In man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibred body
is as beautiful as the most beautiful face.

He allows us half an inning of pump and release,
of the foul balls and big-screened likenesses,

before we finish watching what remains
from the panoramic screens above the bar,

just over the head of our friend
and a series of impassive women.

According to an online quiz and the personality
I imagine for Walt Whitman,

he would not sit through the innings, either.
In fact, if Whitman played a sport, it would be
            70% basketball
            60% golf
            55% swimming

which I like because I once knew a point guard
from Walt Whitman High School,

which was not nearly so remarkable

as the way she slunk down the court
and plunked the ball in the hoop over and over.

Whitman expresses an interest
not in swimming, but in the swimmer:

his luscious romp through the salty bay,
the transparent flush over his veined skin

over his opaque muscle
through the green-shine.

Examine these limbs, says Whitman,
they are very cunning.

Stripped, they are formed of bundles,
chemicals, a deep red color.

Exquisite.

The ultimate fiber of animal life

is capable of being either excited
or controlled by the efforts of the will.

If Whitman were a woman,
according to the sports quiz for ladies,

he would be inclined toward
            hiking
            ballroom dancing
            gentle exercise to help you refocus (yoga, pilates, tai chi)

None of his rapidly-swinging woodmen,
the lusty wrestlers on the vacant lot.

Just enough to keep the flesh not flabby,
good-sized arms and legs,

breast muscle, a pliant backbone and neck
for the bending

forward and backward
of rowers in rowboats.

The universe is a procession
with measured and beautiful motion.

According to the quiz, I should play tennis.




Let’s Imagine

after Rauschenberg’s Opal Reunion

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You have the same kind of newspapers
as everyone else, there

on your chrome-rimmed table
on your little island

in a river of newspapers.
You’re not special

but you do have a painting
of George Washington in the dining room

like a good little American. I’m told
I take a little time to warm up to people

and vice versa. Can’t you imagine
the mountains have this same struggle

with the transfer of heat?
All the people toppling down

into the basin city, hammering
away in their little workshops

for better ice picks, air drops.
Will the new silence feel the same—

sleek modern bench, concrete floor,
windows bridging white walls to sky?



ISSUE FOUR:

ART: Paul Ferragut, Leo Katunaric, Stefanie Schneider

FICTION: Bridget Apfeld, Jennifer A. Howard, Laura Schadler

NONFICTION: Joy Katz, Shena McAuliffe, Kate Partridge, Rob Schlegel

POETRY: Dan Beachy-Quick, Carrie Fountain, Jules Gibbs, Alen Hamza, H. L. Hix, Anna Maria Hong, Krzysztof Jaworski, Thomas Kane, Eric Kocher, Jennifer MacKenzie, Andrew Nance, Paul Otremba, Kate Partridge, Beth Woodcome Platow, Catie Rosemurgy, Claire Sylvester Smith, Lesley Yalen

ET CETERA: Glenn Shaheen’s
“POET The Game”

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