By Robert Vivian
Somewhere a siren and somewhere a response out in darkest space resplendent with all nil, and somewhere a longing arcing deep into the night where someone wanders or lies alone, uncertain, a whistle unused on a table in a motel room though its shrill warning is never far from somebody’s pursed lips. And somewhere another siren and still another and yourself lying in bed a stranger, a near outcast on the fringe of an urban galaxy, some kind of heartbroken freak, wondering in early a.m. darkness what to make of your life or any life when you think you hear a siren sounding somewhere, though maybe it’s just the combined effect of ceiling fan and shifting isobars of barometric pressure, the branches of a tree lashing high above. But even if a siren is not sounding now, you know it has or will again or is even now somewhere else in another city close by or far away, the siren that will one day sound for you, you with no way to gainsay its howling arrival, so mystical the sound of an approaching end or terminus that can’t be spoken or uttered, plinth of night and alone in narrow beds with sheets damp with fever, feeling that something is coming, some long defrayed bill or reckoning, and the body is really such a poor shelter and such a rickety one, brother ass as St. Francis called it, something to also pity, also forgive as it will sooner or later break down and there’s a siren for this also but an inward one called all my rushing blood and everyone’s, coursing through whatever night on the edge of tender prayer and this same prayer one of ragged nobility even if it never makes a sound and the siren must know this somehow as does every emergency, and emergency a state of great alarm cry, an unforeseen occurrence requiring immediate attention as we emerge from one thing to another, chrysalis to butterfly, butterfly to angel then back to eggshell or torn envelope, desiccated leaf about to blow away or up against a chain-link fence next to the runny ink of a wet newspaper or other scrap of litter, and somewhere a siren is growing louder then softer in a strung-out wail and when you hear it you’ll know your whole life is audition and rapt attention, that not knowing what you hear and not understanding what it means is commensurate with a vast innocence washed clean of all presumption, the board we walk on and the echo we cry after—and siren knows this in shrill objectivity, swooping up and down sonic peaks and valleys in its relentless nocturnal wail encompassing everyone who hears it—and if I could say a few words to siren they would be Please lift me gently from the shelf of my body, and can I, siren, laugh once more with the people I love? can I walk down the street with them arm in arm singing silly love songs? and can I please, Oh siren, stand again in a rainstorm and stick out my tongue to receive the rain however it deigns to timpani my face? and I will do my best on to curb my greed for beauty so thank you siren, thank you 911 rushing through the night to get there before someone passes out or dies from blood loss, seizure, scalp wounds and cardiac arrest, and siren coming for me, coming for you, coming always, grant that I be gentle and faithful in my dying, that I wait in the dark like I’m waiting now for something to pass through me in a state not devoid of grace, and somewhere a siren already announces its formal edict and I hear it as the underpinnings of a mysterious truth rising and falling on waves riding the late night air, for here is a way to be carried from this world to the next and it has something to do with Eustachian tube, cochlea, inner ear, and a concrete tunnel whose walls are wet from rain with flashing red lights rushing past the speed limit, siren sounding its headlong summons and lament, the emergency it was meant to broadcast out into the night to the injured and the dying, the ones waiting to be delivered from the cramped precincts of the body to a field waylaid by so much staggering sky.
Robert Vivian is the author of two award-winning books of meditative essays, Cold Snap as Yearning and The Least Cricket of Evening. He is also the author of The Mover of Bones, Lamb Bright Saviors, and Another Burning Kingdom . His most recent published novel is Water and Abandon . He’s also written many plays that have been produced in NYC, many of whose monologues have been published in The Best American Monologues for both men and women. He wrote an adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts in 2006 that premiered at Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo. His essays have been mentioned numerous times in The Best American Essays Series, and his stories, poems, and essays have appeared in magazines and journals like Harper’s, Georgia Review, Creative Nonfiction, and scores of others. In 2008 he was the first American ever to teach at Ondokuz Mayis University in Samsun, Turkey; he currently teaches as associate professor at Alma College in Michigan. He’s just completed two new novels, The Town That Burns Eternity Into Your Soul and Return To Hush Moon Lake.