photo of a desert

Three Prose Poems about Listening to Music by Dawn S. Davies

How to Listen to “Indiscipline” by King Crimson

First, find a desert hot enough to softly bake your skin and sweetly
split your lip in polite company, but deny you heat in the intimacy
of night, like it would straight up yank it like a rug out from under
you, the kind of desert that would get up and leave you in the
middle of sex, the kind of sex where you are blindfolded and
shoved on your stomach and the desert is in the middle of yanking
your hair back when it walks away without a word, taking the
sheets and pillows and blankets with it. What I’m saying is you
need a cruel desert, a fickle one. Stand in this desert, put on your
headphones, fall back into the sand while the song whips into
storm and rages. Don’t try to breathe. Open your mouth and allow
the song to cram your throat with dirt and bugs and sticks.
Swallow it. Let it pin your arms and darken you, a darkness
flecked with shards of red that moves in and out from the sides of
your eyes, as if your retina has popped off the anchor of your
eyeball and the red is your blood, the blood of vocal chords,
shrieking, slapping together, or the blood of fingertips slamming
the guitar neck until the fingers split and the guitar neck bends to
the will of the sound. When it is finished, the song has blown the
skin off your bones, your bones have turned to stone, and the
desert has up and left again. You are blind. You are spent. You are
petrified, and although the silence attempts to be a balm, don’t let

Synesthesia: Listening to “Bach Cello Suite #1,” Played by Pablo Casals

Light, expertly hewn logs, burnt and wet brown, floating in three dimensions, sawing
forty-five degrees across your field of vision, low vocal chords beating together loosely,
high notes squeezing your throat and the space along your ears with a pressure that
makes you want to smack your own face in a good way, notes that throb raw and bold
with flecks of rusty gold, like the piece was recorded on the lam in a commercial loft
above a Chinese noodle factory, a little sloppy, the low notes thrown out like someone
discarding a white dress in the dirt, the high notes sustaining just a little too long, as if
Pablo Casals is tipsy and subtly telling Bach to go fuck himself. The gold is on steroids
and the logs are on acid, riding the vibrato of each sustained note, then back through
gel, with white sheets undulating in the slowest of motion, the grey shadow of the
sheets telling a truth about something you can’t quite put your finger on until you listen
again, then again, each truth as slippery as a vein.

How to Listen to “Panama” by Van Halen

First put aside your own intellectual snobbery because, unless you are buzzed at the
beach, listening to Van Halen is like reading a dirty book whose cover you hide in
embarrassment because you usually read literary fiction and historical biography about great
wars and despotic political leaders. Just to be safe, listen to it only through your headphones,
where, at first, you feel a thickness on the roof of your mouth, like the surface of your hard palate
has turned into the texture of a cat’s tongue, then a small flagpole grows up in a straight line
from your uvula to the center of your head, and thick, rubber flags flap heavily, some with nubs,
black shiny rubber waving to the fast and slippery blues that you have to run behind to catch.
Then you realize, behind the pheromone-saturated voice of David Lee Roth that makes you
want to go out and have sex with strangers, there is a level of musical skill almost mind-blowing,
and that the interplay and coupling between the Van Halen brothers’ drums and guitar
has turned your pulp porn into D.H. Lawrence, and you have been graced by an art that is real.
So you turn it up, desiring, when you can, to understand how it is composed by puzzling out the
time signature, and imagining each of the drum sounds in their own particular point in space, and
drawing lines between them, is the guitar, which, when complete, makes a full representation of
every constellation known to man. Sink into it. Give it over. Dream of driving away under the
night sky with someone you don’t know well at all.

Dawn S. Davies is the fiction editor of Gulf Stream Magazine at Florida International University, and the graduate coordinator for the Writers on the Bay Reading Series. She won first place in the  FIU Student Literary Awards for nonfiction, the Kentucky Women Writers’ Gabehart Prize for nonfiction, semi-finalist for the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books for fiction, and a residency with the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in Real South Magazine; River Styx; Brain,Child; Hippocampus; and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Saw Palm, Ninth Letter, and Fourth Genre.

Lead image: “Bedouin Desert, Africa” (via Flickr user Wall Boat)