#871: Caesura

January 3rd, 2018

It’s a tired city smeared white with road salt.

The cold always takes a lot out of the town. It’s an effort to move, to pack yourself thick with swaddle. Coats that go to the knees, scarves, gloves, hats we’d all agree were hideous in a better world than ours.

Breathing is sharp, noses drip, backs ache, and it feels a workout for legs just going up and down road-salt stairs down to the subway hub to head elsewhere.

Everything’s been slow in the cold. People aren’t going out when they don’t have to. “When they don’t have to” is becoming a larger category each dropped degree.

So down empty white-smeared streets, down huddled penguin hallways even the smiling Jehovah’s Witnesses have abandoned, down into the city’s railway belly, we have a rest. We have a caesura.

Caesura is a word I didn’t know 20 minutes ago, until a Wikipedia wormhole looking for a fancy-pants music term took me there. It’s the little silent beat in a poem or a music where you don’t talk. It’s the comma between “midnight dreary” and “while I pondered.” It’s the line break between the Whisper-ma-Phone slupping down to your ear and the Once-ler explaining who lifted the Lorax.

“In time value this break may vary between the slightest perception of silence all the way up to a full pause,” sayeth the Wiki.

In scansion — writing out how a poem should be spoken — it goes ||.

“The woods are lovely, || dark and deep”

“To be, || or not to be — || that is the question”

“And he said with a grin || as he wiped off his chin || ‘If my ear were a…’”

It musical notation, it’s written //.  Musicians call the // tram lines in the United Kingdom, the article I discovered 20 minutes ago has made me an expert upon. In the States, we call it railroad tracks.

That’s a coincidence. By the time I had gotten to that line in the Wikipedia article, I had already settled on caesura to describe a slight perception of silence by the railroad tracks.

There was music in my silence. Two old street musicians, bent over by age or doo-wop practice. They leaned forward to snap rhythm and to percuss one song with the maraca rattle of an egg shaker. They sang of blankets under the boardwalk and of not knowing much about history. I know these men. I’ve seen them before, hummed a beat or two along of their songs. I tossed a dollar in their cup to receive a perfect two-part harmony “Thank // you” in return.

I leaned against a pillar to continue listening to their song.

Others leaned too, against pillars, against the railings guarding a boarded-up ex-passage to the Red Line. Our coats and hats and endless boots had spent the day weighing us down. It was 6 p.m. but felt like midnight.

A man in a full Russian fur hat and foam rubber face mask sped down the platform on a Razor scooter, which was an odd moment but not enough to hang a full story on.

And we were there. Wearied by the day, wearied by the cold, wearied by being the early night’s last travelers down empty tunnels to where men sang of sunnier days, we leaned and waited, bundled like packaged glassware. Familiar strangers enjoying the silence of music. Together, we took our pause and breath.

The train came. We shuffled aboard. Our next verses had started.

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