Alaska Shorts: Visiting with Permafrost – Tocsin, Siren, Chime by Jessamyn Birre

Permafrost is the farthest north literary journal for writing and the arts, located at 64° 50′ N (198 miles from the Arctic Circle). It is a graduate student run journal associated with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Issue 37:2, online here, is formatted like a “choose your own adventure story” with hyperlinks moving the reader throughout the issue.

by Jessamyn Birrer
Rearrange your mind until every name rings a bell,
so, like the bells of the Zhou Dynasty, all tuned against
a standard string, each set of bells an agreement
upon rationality or justice. To cut cloth by, to measure grain.
Then know that every bell is two bells, sounding
its true note and another, say a minor third apart,
and just as true. Like your name—the strike of your heart,
the measure of my distance.
Then, twelve notes by which to tune every instrument:
the pipa, the zither, the flute, the body. One kind of bell
to face upwards, as though to hold the tears of the world,
and one to face downwards, bronze or iron, calling
out not their own songs, but announcing song.
Think of the bellmaker cutting his length of string
and plucking it, testing for pitch. A bell for each string.
If I wanted to buy your name I would unspool it, foot
by phoneme, until its pitch married itself to its bell.
Across the whole of which continent—the mind, the earth—
might I carry these bells, knowing each is a measure
of what has been lost, knowing well what has been cut,
knowing full well what music might yet begin or end.

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