Listener, Take 2: Whispers of a Wooden World

Welcome to Take 2 of our Listener reaction. This week, a few of us are taking different pieces from the band Listener and writing what comes to mind. For Take 1 by Erika Morrison, click here.

Today, Abby Barnhart’s writing is inspired by Listener’s “Wooden Heart.” She does well with this piece. Really well. And after you have spent some time here, run over to her place and see just how good her other words are.


Listener “Wooden Heart” from Nathan Corrona on Vimeo.


Kara was a fairy child, half gypsy, made of signal smoke. I can’t remember her eyes, hair, or skin color, but the playground whispers, the stories of far away mysteries, those she painted on thick as the ink-mud we’d imagine with, deep into the darkening night, until there were only mother voices and mosquitoes left to guide us home.
Her favorite story was about the wooden world.
Here, she’d say, the trees is wood, and everything else is made all up of metal or skin. But there, her smile blooming, all’s turned backwards, upside, and down.
Trees, she claimed, of flesh and blood.
People of wood, some flowering.
We only have what we remember.
Kara’s whispered words return to me on their own well-wandered time. For ages, I search in vain for her trail, a taste of that sacred story. It’s twenty years later, the sleepless third of November, when delirium and anxiety surround, a perfect storm, to carry her to me, and I to her wooden world.
It’s surprisingly serene – this nature of steel and bone. Colossal oaks, branching arms bent low, extended always for embrace. I fit just so in one hand hammock, two low-lying offshoots folded to size. I squint but see no horizon far-off, only endless plush pink sky. I see no sun, yet it seems to glow eternal, ever-setting in the warm dusk limbo of darkness delayed.
I wake from fear that night may never come, but find it deep and sticking. A clammy dampness coats my skin, morning dew come in the midst of the blackness. The urge to stretch is so sudden strong it tickles, and I rise to crack the window.
I creak. Loud enough to wake the dreaming, the shock shakes free a memory. On the welcome bit of breeze now passing, I hear Kara once again.
These is seeds from the wooden world people. She digs deep in the pit of my fist. If you swallow ‘em down, they’ll grow tree stuff in you . . . her whisper cracks as it reaches its loudest point, and you’ll flower forever and always.
We only have what we remember.
And I do. I remember.
I remember Kara’s pigtails dancing fast and free behind her as she raced me home, laughing louder for the falling feeling freedom always brings. I remember soon after, the stories fading with the light, finally stopping all together, squelched by cursed terms like “girls of a certain age.” Story turned swear word, thrown out in the same load as fancy and fable. And the spark of the fairy child all but disappeared, replaced by empty eyes of expectation. I remember the whisper’s end.
I remember, too, the hope of good grown from the dirt, and the pain of a broken whole turned to pieces that don’t add up. I fall fast from the weight of all the remembering – wooden knees meet wooden floor and there I find her seeds.
I splinter, pulling shards of past from my flesh to trade for those few magic beans. I plant rows of tree-people, a piece of myself in each plot. I wish them grown, water and tend and want only what the gypsy child promised. With roots entwined, we buoy each other, smoke signaling together, our stories building rings in the bark of shared memory.

People of wood, some flowering.

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18 Responses to Listener, Take 2: Whispers of a Wooden World

  1. Pingback: whispers of a wooden world

  2. sethhaines says:

    Sweet mercy.

    Abby Leigh… I’m without words here… almost.

    You turn phrases upside down in this piece, take a near cliches (pit of my stomach) and turn it into something not cliche at all (“pit of my fist”). This is some straight-up good stuff. I’ve read this several times now, and each time I “get it” just a little bit more (which is fitting because I’ve listened to Wooden Heart several times now with the same result).

    This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I’d done this project a whilest ago. You and Erika have delivered big time and I’m in cold sweats figuring how I’ma follow you two.

    And Malone? His time’sa coming too. That likewise leaves me frightful.

    • Kiki Malone says:

      I’m gonna write about how much I love rice in my soup!

    • i’m so glad you did this when you did, so that i could wrestle with this song for the last few weeks until i can smell it now in my pores – or maybe that’s the garlic from dinner.

      either way – i’m grateful. and encouraged. and wrecked. and all that jazz.

      you boys were polite to let the ladies go first, but i have no doubts you will deliver in your own fantastic ways. let’s keep it up!

  3. You craft worlds in a way that I can only dream of and like a Listener song, it must be revisited again and again for the fullness to be absorbed. It is good to go inside your fairy head.

    Thank-you, dear Abby.

  4. J.Ray says:

    This is holy stuff, stuff that makes things that have long germinated under hard packed clay crack the surface.

  5. Oh, my. Abby, this is amazing. You grabbed the line that grabbed me the hardest and wove magic with it. Magic. That line is especially poignant in my life just now as both my mom and my mother-in-law are not remembering much…and I often worry and weep about how much they have. Thank you.

  6. Pingback: Listener, Take 3: Ozark Failures | Seth Haines

  7. Pingback: Listener, Take 4: You Have Never Lived Because You Have Never Died | Seth Haines

  8. this is by far my favorite listener piece – i listen & relisten constantly, letting the words soak deep. i feel i’ll need to do the same with this post.

    we only have what we remember.

    i’ve whispered this to myself a lot this year…knowing the remembering is where the healing begins. thanks for writing this, abby.

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