Liner Notes

Because this song’s made of the airwaves
a time machine, you start to play the air
guitar of memory, making a country
so you can walk back into it, like a man
on rewind in a silent film, his whiskey tumbler
filling up again as he rises from his stool
and steps backwards towards the avenue, where
the cars, cabs, trucks reverse away from him,
and the lights, for once, turn amber to green;
where the two hands on his watch unravel time,
like a maiden aunt unpicking a whole evening’s worth
of knitting over the dropped stitch that means
she must go back before she can go on.
You raise the record from its sleeve again,
hold it grail-like into the wayward light
to read the liner notes on a life you’ve lived
all wrong. Wind in the sycamores outside,
rain coming down in a town you left behind
and not this one, where the backward longing
can strike you anytime — breath on the nape
of your neck when you’re the only one in line,
cat with a broken spine dragging itself off
into the undergrowth to die. Where the silence
might give way to a high-hat or snare drum,
the lub-dub of the bass, a brass section.
After a long absence, you take up the thread again,
take up the line, what you listen for,
try not to listen for, stirring the tiny hairs
within your inner ear, weighting the wet tip
of your tongue, like the scuff and fumble
of the blind needle finding its way from silence
to the first track on side one. You nod
your head “yes.” You sing along. You tap
the steering wheel of the car in which you pass
under a strobe of stars, a quarter moon,
until, despite yourself, you are sixteen
again and walking home in a downpour
with your Ken Dodd quiff, your flowers of sulfur,
toward the box of records from which you’ll pick
a tune to name the afternoon. Its scattered
showers with a chance of sunny spells later,
its gust and bluster from Rathlin to Cape Clear.
This one would sound good in a stadium.
It’s all guitar shimmer, tremolo arm,
a chorus that staggers smitten toward
the open bar. This one’s a plea, a paean
on just six strings until the horns cut in,
like the bully at a prom. It recalls the taste
of cigarettes and bubblegum on the tongue
of the first girl you ever kissed. All broken glass
and bruised finger, its swoon circles forever
the turntable in that blue room where you
fed and watered every slight and scar. And so
you’d like to thank the engineer, his assistant
who provides the harmonies and made the tea;
the trumpet player, his spit still wet in the mouth
of a solo that the vinyl keeps pristine,
black box recorder to your submerged plane.
The singer with a bone stuck in her throat,
which is another way to say “longing.”
The producer, who fills in on Hammond organ.
You could go on like this, lost in the noise
again, in your baroque joy at what was
and is, and what the words become, talking
to yourself in the second person, as if
you’re fooling anyone, reading the liner notes
on a life you measure song by song.

More Poems by Ciaran Berry