Just Listen

by | Mar 19, 2021 | Weekly Prompt

A season of listening has begun. It’s easier to hear the soft sounds of nature in the spring, now that the unceasing autumn grind of leaf blowers has faded from my suburban street and the buzz of the winter holidays has quieted. 

We live in the woods, so if I tune in, beyond the hum of the HVAC and beneath the groans of cars and airplanes, I can always hear bird songs. It is my ambition to learn which bird emits which sound, but for now, I am trying just to be more attentive, to tune in more and more often. 

“Bald Eagle Count” by Jack Collom is replete with the sounds of birds–and not just their song. The poet hears “a cardinal startling” and “hundreds of geese flap into a field.” There are other sounds–bits of conversation between the speaker and his friends, sounds of human encroachment: “giant trucks whiz by” and “motors start.” At one point, he mistakes a sound: “thought I heard a woodpecker pecking but it was / the pickup cooling off.” That stanza ends with an especially resonant auditory image: 

english sparrows out here

sounds erupt

like a whale under the pond ice

I listen to my children. After I put my newborn in her bassinet, I listen to her grunts and mews and wonder if they will resolve into the quiet of sleep or crescendo and become full-throated cries. I pick her up and listen to decipher if she’s hungry or gassy or tired. I listen to my toddler argue and then cry because I said the apple cider was apple cider and not tea, and I remind myself to listen a few moments longer before I respond. If she needs it to be tea, then I can let it be tea. 

A month ago, just hours after giving birth, I listened as my midwife said that I wasn’t wheezing; I was just taking a deep breath. I didn’t speak up then, even though I knew that I really was wheezing. But my body soon demanded that I listen: something really wasn’t right. I said so, and I was heard. I owe my survival to listening to my body and to my medical team listening to me. 

We choose what we listen to. We choose whom we listen to. Following the horrific murders in Atlanta targeting Asian-American women, the local sheriff chose to listen to the murderer and echo his words uncritically. As a white person, I resist the urge to fill space with my noises of outrage and shock, and, instead, listen to and amplify the voices of Asian-Americans who are speaking up. These words from Atlantan Rachel Priest, a Chinese-American writer who was adopted by white parents, reverberate:

I will fight back against my journalism training that tells me to remain unbiased and stick to the facts, reminding myself I’m an Asian woman before I’m anything else. I will fight back against years of colorblind conditioning that told me bringing race into every conversation is racist. I will fight back against the continuously perpetuated stereotypes that Asians — and Asian women in particular — are subservient and quiet. I will fight back and call it by its name: The shootings were racist and demonstrated, in horrifying reality, what misogyny and the fetishization of East Asian women can become. 


Close your eyes. Listen. Just listen. Listen to birds and wind. Listen to nature sounds and the not-nature sounds that drown out nature sounds.

Listen to the people you love. Hear what they are not saying in the silences between what they do say. 

Listen to your body. Listen to your intuition, your gut, your instincts.

Choose what to listen to. Choose whom to listen to. 

Write what you hear. What do you hear outside? What do you hear from other people? What do you hear from within yourself? What do you hear when you resist listening to the easy answers, the ahistorical headlines, and the panaceas of politicians, and listen instead to the voices of protest, anger, and fear?

What do you hear when you really, really, really just listen?