_A DAILY STORM____________
_Tom Melick_______________
If memories can wake up in heads they did not go to sleep in, perhaps voices can live on in other throats, sounds in other sounds. The sound of the New York City subway, if you close your eyes, is like being on board a ship in tempestuous seas. The howl of air and machine, the rattle of metal, the waiting and waiting: a daily storm. You may be interested, then, in hearing that the transit authority sinks decommissioned subway cars off the coast of New Jersey, creating artificial reefs at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; or in the flooding of the subway tunnels that often occurs during a storm. I’ve heard all sorts of stories where aquatic creatures take over the subway, exploiting its network of tunnels, swimming uptown and down; transforming the underground into their own reefs.

In fact, given New York’s geography, water is a constant threat to the subway; even on days when it doesn’t rain 13 million gallons are pumped out of the system. Teams of workers and engineers labor day and night servicing the pumps, unclogging drains, negotiating rats, and flushing water back into the Hudson — all so we can get to work or school or wherever it is we go. Should this labor stop, the subway would quickly transform into a sunless river system, or maybe the five rivers of Hades. One river in particular, Lethe, whose water when drunk made the souls of the dead forget their life, would surely cause the city to forget itself.

I do wonder what New York would become if, for a moment, it forgot how to speak and could only listen. Listening: that moment when, having waded through noise, we get close enough to a sound in order to touch it, and sometimes become it. What sounds would nest in the city’s ears? The murmur of the ocean? The songs of the unsung? A voice, whispering: “Let’s be bored together.” “Let’s distract ourselves from our distractions.” “The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to pressed upon his memory.” [1] Or, finally given the chance, would all the forgotten voices seize the city’s ears and shout: “We’ve been here all along! Holding back the water! Propping up your aspirations and imaginations! Making this machine work!” 
Perhaps the ocean sounds in the subway are a reminder that water, like voices, can be contained and repressed for a time, but never conquered. As it lives and rises, water makes clear which stories sink and which float, which dissolve and which travel elsewhere on elusive currents. Water has more patience than our plans; like a book left out in the rain, it soaks through our achievements and turns them to pulp. 

NOTES ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓ ▓

[1] Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books), 91.

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