On Voices

Sam Rasnake

There is the name and the thing; the name is a voice which denotes and signifies the thing; the name is no part of the thing, nor of the substance; ‘tis a foreign piece joined to the thing, and outside it.  – Michel de Montaigne, “Of Glory”

What I remember most is the constant boom of his words. My father—a jackhammer, breaking open all his ideas that somehow became, given time, the one idea that filled him: recognizing his one moment in the world. He knew himself, understood himself better than anyone else I’ve ever known. He knew exactly what it meant to breathe his life, and his voice was that certainty. It never faltered, even when his life began to run thin. Even when his words were always sure, the shaking in his voice became a fragile reminder of a strength that’s only shadow. That never changed. But maybe that wasn’t it at all. Maybe he was creating a world in which he could exist, could thrive. It gave him comfort. Gave him rest. But I do know the more he realized his time was short, the more he spoke. And the more he spoke, the more he had to say, needed to say. Silence was not his way.


There’s great beauty in the speaking voice. The sounds and textures make a bridge to some missing world. Some place within each of us that without talk would be lost. Places we’d forgotten long before, yet in the moment of talk, they became a present and living thing.  Another time. Another landscape. A parallel universe. Worlds within worlds—and all because of talk. Power in its purest form.

When we speak the words of the dead—“Now is the winter of our discontent”—something is added to life.  Even if we can’t quite get at it, can’t articulate the thought, something happens. When I say “the winter of our discontent,” my breath is Shakespeare’s, my breath is Richard’s. Even though he died in battle, Richard’s bones—buried in Greyfriars, church, and choir, in time, beneath a parking lot in Leicester…his curved spine and skull, his teeth, his opened mouth—whisper of a world whose hate has stopped—even if it’s only stopped for an instant. Sometimes that is all that’s needed. But, I shouldn’t forget that it’s the voice that Shakespeare wanted, the one he crafted. His words.  His view. Truth didn’t matter. It was Shakespeare’s truth. But when I breathe the words, it becomes my truth. “I know the truth—give up all other truths.” Marina Tsvetaeva, Russian poet, wrote those words, spoke those words across two languages. And she was right.


I say “independent as a hog on ice,” one of my father’s strange maxims, and the world is suddenly familiar. It’s a place I know. A voice I know. Maybe that’s because it’s his breath, his view I’m seeing when I say it. His way of understanding. I let him talk on into my sleep. He was no king—except to me. But that’s enough.


Sam Rasnake’s works, receiving five nominations for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Best of the Web 2009, Wigleaf, OCHO, MiPOesias Companion 2012, Big Muddy, Literal Latté, LUMMOX 2012, BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2, and Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2011. His latest poetry collections are Lessons in Morphology (GOSS183) and Inside a Broken Clock (Finishing Line Press).