Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Words of Sounds (2) - Dybek

Earlier this year I posted a paragraph from a novel that explored the sound of a scene so beautifully I thought it was worth sharing. Here's another bunch of words you can practically hear. It's text from a "A Minor Mood," a short story by Stuart Dybek from his outstanding collection I Sailed With Magellan. There's music and noise and sound throughout this book (and all of SD's work) but something about this scene really stands out for me.

Here's the set-up: An aged and worn-down character Lefty is remembering back to the times when his Grandmother ("Lefty's Gran") would nurse him back to health from the croup, and other bronchial tube-challenged conditions. Imagine a room in an old Chicago apartment building on the South Side, full of pots and pans balancing on radiators, steam pouring forth, the smell of Vicks Vaporub hanging in the air.

"She taught Lefty to play the measuring spoons like castanets in accompaniment to her gypsylike singing. She was playing the radiators with a ladle as if they were marimbas. Lefty was up, out of bed, flushed, but feeling great, and in steam that was fading to wisps he was dancing with his gran. Her girlish curls tossed as around and around the room they whirled, both of them singing, and on or the other dizzily breaking off the dance in order to beat or plunk or blow some instrument they'd just invented: Lefty strumming the egg slicer, Lefty's Gran oompahing an empty half gallon of Dad's old-fashioned root beer; Lefty bugling "Sunshine" through the cardboard clarion at the center of a toilet-paper roll, Lefty's Gran chiming a closet of empty coat hangers; Lefty shake-rattle-and-rolling the silverware drawer; Lefty's Gran Spike Jonesing the vacuum cleaner; Lefty, surrounded by pots and lids, drum-soloing with wooden spoons; while Lefty's Gran, conducting with a potato masher, yelled "Go, Krupa, go!"

According to's spell check, "oompahing" is misspelled. But Dybek knows better.

P.S. Read this one outloud, if you will.

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