“A River of Sounds” by Samuel A. Betiku

Samuel A. Betiku


What is more opposite to music?
The silence … The dead silence.
—Volodymyr Zelensky

At the river, I teach my little sister the cadence of water.
Our steeped feet send reverberations across
Its bright and fluent body, spurring the dance of atoms,
Which leap into crests and dip into troughs
Like an electrocardiograph reading the music the heart makes.

The music the heart makes, the far-reaching sounds,
Encompassing the crest and trough, the elevation and depression,
As when the body erupts into a song at the height of bliss
And in the depth of grief, paeans and monodies depicting this.
Consider how songs are the body’s warming mechanism,
Like shivers in the wake of a flu, waves keeping the river in motion
Against the pressing frostiness of the world.

The pressing frostiness of the world is felt in a clinic in Bucha,
Where a girl lies suspended between here and the hereafter
By a gunshot wound—the encroaching gloom slowly lifting
In the swaddling warmth of a lullaby from her mother’s lips
And an electrocardiograph reading the steady rhythm of her heart.

The steady rhythm of her heart is what her mother holds onto,
Its music the promise of a river holding neither ruin
Nor the dead but the dance of waves over a vivid sky.
There, the little girl sings and fiddles again her beloved violin.
There, their guffaws gush out unrestrainedly,
Bright and fluent enough to drown the dead silence
Of mass graves clustered in the distance.

from Poets Respond
April 10, 2022


Samuel A. Betiku: “Volodymyr Zelensky’s Grammys speech on ‘sound’ struck a chord.”

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