Sounds of the Sea

During a coastal rainstorm,
I play Sounds of the Sea: Volume I
to drown out the thunderclaps.
I’ve been working my way
through all of my father’s albums
as one long tribute concert,
but I’d reserved this oddity.
The marine timbre seems fitting now
with the rain enclosing my living
room like some sort of submarine.
It’s a curious record from 1952,
and I can see my father smiling
as he finds it amid a dusty bin
at an estate sale, where he and my mother
would comb through what the dead couldn’t take with them.
Album in hand, he’d have turned to her, called out Joy!—
flipped it to the side so she could see the title and nod her approval—
before slipping it under his arm to keep.
In my father’s house, my mother and I found
molded dishes, a rusted jukebox,
the blood-spattered couch.
But his vinyls, pristine.
My living room fills with analog sound, tall like my father.
Underwater gurgles—some as innocent as two children
splashing each other in a warm bathtub.
Others eerie: “2000 Fathoms Down” moans
spectral from another kind of abyss.
Now, the record spins the way his mind spun
around the maelstrom my mother left within
him. Side A ends, and, for a moment,
I let the needle scratch at the center label
to replicate the sound of fire in his woodstove
where he warmed his feet before he chilled his body.
The medics found him cold as the spring water
that flowed down from the frozen hills that December.
And even above the sound of the record, thunder booms,
reverberates like my father’s laugh, which opened out of him, wide as an estuary,
echoes like a shotgun.
I imagine it in his mouth: cold
and tasting of metal as he cried.
He had to have cried.
In all of the versions that play in my head, he cries.
When the rain passes, the record will return to its sleeve.
I’ll go out back, unlock the tool shed, and
drag my maul across the wet earth
to the stump of the ash tree. The remains
left for me to remove, bit by bit, after
some burrowing beetle ate away at it from within
until the tree gave up and the leaves browned
and fell to the ground too early in its season.
The stump rests in its ruin, a jagged and dead reminder.
I drilled holes into its sides, poured in Epsom salts,
and it rots a little more with each storm. I hack away,
swing the maul in an arc, the way my father chopped wood
with his axe, trying to store enough fuel to keep him going
through those harsh winters that made it seem as though
spring would never come. I return to the stump again
and again, drive my wedge into its body.

Isabelle Shepherd hails from West Virginia, but she’s currently pursuing her MFA at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she isn't writing, she reports the news for WHQR, the local public radio station. In her spare time, she battles cat brier in the yard, expands her record collection, and paints her nails wild colors only to chip off the varnish the next day. Her work has been featured in Connotation Press, OccuPoetry, and Plain Spoke.