B Rivka Clifton

A Month Without Music

When I look at my phone I want to vomit—

in the evening, it’s the worst. I spend all day

moving letters around a screen and listening

to metal, the kind with vocalists who sound empty.

It makes sense that music, too, would make me feel

like vomiting. Around this time, I discover funeral

doom. We age in the interval between notes.
The bands growl 20 minutes at a time. I listen

on broken headphones—everyone sounds far away.

At my office, the conversations are faint.

I scratch my scalp and hear it in the base of my skull.

I tilt my head to listen to a chorus of mucous.

Digital music is not for me—my preference is vinyl.

I buy my records online. Sometimes, I scroll

through Discogs until I get motion sickness

then my hand covers my eye or rubs my brow. There

are days I’d prefer not to talk. I schedule a telehealth

appointment. I schedule an in-person appointment.

At work, I interview an architect, who summarizes

an architect meme by repeating the text. Without

an image, there isn’t a joke. His voice is like a tongue

in a nightmare. I don’t listen to music. My headaches

intensify while I move letters around. I impress

my coworkers. For two-hours a day, I open

my jaw rhythmically but my ears don’t pop.

The pain drives me to pour a tincture in both ears.

It doesn’t work. I wait for my appointment.

The nurse is nonchalant as he asks me routine

questions. When I answer I, too, am surprised

at my honesty. The doctor wears a rainbow pride pin

and asks if I have trouble hearing. I ask him

to repeat, and he almost does before laughing.

He shines a light into my ear. It is as he expected.

A very long time ago, I watched pharmacy students

train to be empathetic. They were stuck in a room

with a person who pretended to be a patient,

one of my friends did this. She was the best fake-

psychiatric patient in Kansas City. I remember

when we hung out after she took mushrooms.

I felt so close to her. We didn’t talk about gender.

We were both boys then. In the exam room,

the doctor says my ears are clogged with earwax.

He removes chunks of it before leaving the nurse  

to irrigate my ear canals. As he squirts water into me,

he says, oh here it comes. Just like that, oh here it comes, like

I’m giving birth. He tells me I have to listen to music.

I just have to listen to some music—now that I can

hear. The last time I saw the best fake-psychiatric

patient in Kansas City, I was with a woman

who loved music, who played saxophone. She had

been losing her hearing for six years. It was genetic.

We were no longer in love, and in a few months

no longer together. My friend was busking at a corner,

and then she was in Colorado or Wyoming, or in—

who knows? I don’t know where my lover ended up

either. I got in my car and turned the volume down

as low as it could go. It was raining, but I could still hear

the dirges pouring from the speakers’ hidden mouths.

B Rivka Clifton is the author of the chapbooks MOT and Agape (from Osmanthus Press). They have work in: Pleiades, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Colorado Review, The Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other magazines. They are an avid record collector and curator of curiosities.