by Grace Winn Ellis

Grease from the pan mists on shiny surfaces and cupboard tops.
Dust motes float on air currents, coming to rest on picture frames and door panels,
Adhering to the oily film.
Sand and soil cling to shoe soles, hitching a ride across the threshold, settling on the floor.
Houseplants shed their leaves.
Left-overs in the far corners of the fridge slowly expire.
Mildew creeps across the bathroom tile.
The wiring in the microwave gives up the ghost.
Clothes wrinkle in the closet; buttons come untethered.
Stacks of unopened mail teeter on the table.
Clutter accumulates by geometric proportion,
As each day’s detritus, piled on any horizontal surface,
Magnetically attracts more.
Spiders weave their webs in nooks and crannies.
Slugs, crickets, even tree frogs invade this porous house.

Shocked at the scale of the battle, the strength of the opposing forces,
She loses any impulse to tackle a task, to cleanse, to order,
Merely observing as the downhill slide gathers momentum,
Racing pell-mell, to hell in a hand-basket—
The upwardly mobile grease,
The clinging dust,
The border-crossing dirt,
The defoliating plants,
The de-composing food,
The advancing mildew,
The unmaintainable appliances,
The rebellious clothes and buttons,
The mounting mail and clutter,
The uninvited denizens of the wild—
Until it all passes the tipping point—into chaos.

Motionless on the stained sofa,
She dreams of the match, the falling tree, the bulldozer,
Or the slow, steady process of rot and decay
That will, one day, obliterate it all—
Envisioning the endgame of entropy:
“An ultimate state of inert uniformity.”


By Grace Ellis

As winter edges into spring,
In the soggy meadows near the creek,
The unseen toads begin to hummmmmmm.

First, the low vibrations—like massed basses,
Now, the piercing high quavers chime in,
Then the middle voices fill the gap.

Not a major triad, no.
Something more modal—
Or quarter tones, perhaps—
But not discordant,
Blended in perfect harmony.

Silence now.
Then the layered sound builds again,
The crescendo like a train approaching,
Passing, fading away down the tracks,
Its echoes ringing in our ears.

Do they make subtle adjustments—
These amphibious carolers—
To build their wall of sound?
Are they instinctively attuned?
Or are they jostling for the attention of a fickle female?
Which suitor’s pitch will she prefer
In this opera buffa for bufo americanus?

In the swelling sound waves—whatever their origin—
I hear The Dixie Hummingbirds,
Drawing out that chord,
In anticipation of love just like a rock;
The choir of Westminster Abbey—
Tiny boys, old men, and those between—
Calling to remembrance polyphonies of centuries long past;
The tenor line of Lady Smith Black Mambazo,
Floating over the rumbling bass foundation;
Welsh singers serenading the casket all through the night;
The Blind Boys of Alabama rattling the walls of Jericho;
Boisterous shape-noters racing through a fuguing tune;
Harsh Bulgarian voices, rising,
Filling a Byzantine Dome with sweet praise;
The high lonesome harmonies of Appalachia;
Or the pulsing of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Not to mention the overtones of singing bowls,
The good vibrations of the theramin,
The kazoo, the jaw-harp, the didgeridoo,
The bagpipe, the sitar, and every instrument devised
For human fingers, human breath,
In all their glorious combinations.

If all this music should be silenced
In a catastrophic collapse of civilization,
The survivors could, over time,
Rebuild the entire soundscape
By listening to the singing toads.