In My Early Teens, I Actually Listened to This Thing Called Radio
What a magic box an ordinary girl like me could possess—
rigid black rectangle on my rickety student desk,
music thumping the particleboard surface where I
sweated through algebra and trigonometry, tapping
my nubby pencils to beats I found on AM and FM
—Jersey jazz from WBGO, neon-coated new wave
from WLIR, WBLS still soulful after all these years.
Long before LPs and cassette singles, podcasts
and long-players, I’d hold up my tape recorder
to the mesh speakers of my family’s console stereo,
wooden bulwark in the midst of our living room,
taping songs from faraway stations, spooling music
into memory and muscle, swaying to whatever
I could find by twirling its sticky knobs from
one end of the dial to the other, skipping dj chatter
and department store jingles, news bulletins
and weather reports. What I really wanted to hear
was Weather Report—Zawinul and Shorter
and Pastorius giving us the pure jazz high of “Birdland,”
six minutes of surge and urge and hallelujah,
or Phoebe Snow—high priestess of soul
who I swore was a black woman—singing about
that poetry man I hoped to find in my arms one day.
Even the disco rumble of WKTU made me happy,
Salsoul Orchestra making a shimmer of my
awkward shimmies and struts. Later I found
record stores, library and rummage sales,
loved any place full of music I could own,
sink into through headphones, hoarding discards
and discounts, stealing albums from my older sister’s stash.
Years later I still sing songs I stole
from the radio’s waves, dragged along by lust,
musical greed, and the need to sing at any given sorrow.
Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where is she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, she is the widow of the poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom THE LAST HUMAN HEART is dedicated.
Leah Silvieus was born in South Korea and adopted to the U.S. at three-months old. She grew up in small towns in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and western Colorado. She is the author of Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), Season of Dares (Bull City Press), Arabilis (Sundress Publications) and co-editor with Lee Herrick of the poetry anthology, The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (Orison Books). She is a recipient of awards and fellowships from Kundiman, The Academy of American Poets, and Fulbright and serves as a mentor on The Brooklyn Poets Bridge. A 2019-2020 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Fellow, Leah serves as a senior books editor at Hyphen magazine and an associate editor at Marginalia Review of Books. Her reviews and criticism have appeared in the Harvard Review Online, The Believer, and elsewhere.
She holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from the University of Miami, and is currently an MAR candidate in Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music. Prior to Yale, she spent several years traveling between New York and Florida as a yacht chief stewardess.
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