Listen

The everrumble by Michelle Elvy
Image source: Ad Hoc Fiction

Read the everrumble by Michelle Elvy on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Find a hammock near a babbling brook. Let the birdsong enter your ear and nestle in your heart. Immerse yourself in the world of Zettie. This is how her story begins.

The light enters like tiny diamonds — ancient shards piercing the dark world. Zettie has curled herself so tight she can’t feel the fissures anymore; she’s smooth like a marble, no sharp edges. Under the wooly cover, she hears her own breath and nothing else. The blanket is blue and green, with streaks of orange
(papaya, really)
and yellow
(mango, really)
and a deep red: primeval soil. […]

This is the year Zettie stops speaking.

Michelle Elvy, the everrumble (Ad Hoc Fiction 2019)

Don’t expect the everrumble to reveal the mystery of what’s wrong with Zettie. Or revel in how this brave little girl conquers a terrible disability. There is, in fact, nothing at all wrong with Zettie. She simply chooses to hear rather than be heard.

When she stopped talking, not only did the world become louder in all ways but it also brightened, all senses turned up a notch. Everything was alight day and night.

Sailing

Elvy and I met last summer during one of her rare appearances on land. You see, for the past 16 years, Elvy and her family have been sailing around the world on their boat Momo.

We move slowly – very slowly. And this slow pace has certainly informed the way I take in the world. […] To be able to breathe in it, to be able to sit with the ocean and stars and nothing else for days and weeks on end – that is a rare and wonderful thing. Your own perceptions of time and space change entirely when you sail across oceans, when you drift for days, engineless.

Michelle Elvy interviewed by Gail Ingram for Takahe Magazine, 6 Aug 2019

Like a sailboat, the everrumble does not move in a linear fashion. It lingers in small moments, say, under a blanket of sea and earth and sky. Then it leaps 20 or 30 or 60 years at a time, rocking back and forth. Reading the everrumble helps me imagine life at sea.

Because

In silence, Zettie makes friends, falls in love, goes to college. She finds work and fame as a translator, that most delicate form of writing. In New Zealand, Zettie meets a man and bears him two daughters. She takes the girls with her as she roams the earth, listening. Her children are her only cause of regret for this life of silence.

It’s the only time when she’s wanted to speak — to read with her children. She has no need for speaking, generally; days happen whether she speaks or not. She prefers to listen.

And, of course, to write. Zettie always has pencil and paper at hand for crude forms of communication. Better yet are her hands, darting touching flying. Best of all are Zettie’s book notes, a running commentary on the books she’s read at age 14 or 105. Like all good writers, Zettie is a voracious reader.

Language became the thing Zettie loved more than anything else. Which sounds funny for a person who doesn’t speak, but the sounds she heard, the roll and thunder and quiet shuffle on the page — those reverberated like a second heartbeat.

Roll and thunder and quiet shuffle

This is, I believe, the way all poets experience language: viscerally. Does this mean Elvy is a poet and/or the everrumble a collection of prose poetry? Elvy happily coins words like firecrackerfast and herward. Parts of the everrumble sing like “Dreamscape II: moon and sea,” a meditation on the earth’s sorrow.

Which floats and lifts on the gentle swells — sometimes it’s smaller and fragments are caught in the breeze, lifted and blown away. Sometimes it’s heavy enough, solid, to puncture the sea’s surface, to break through the thin veneer that separates liquid from sky, and sink through the deep, down down down, to the ocean floor. But sorrow can’t be drowned, no.

Elvy knows the border between the prose poem and flash fiction. Both forms depend on sound and rhythm. Every word counts. One reviewer compares the everrumble to a mosaic. Each tile is perfectly crafted, a jewel in its own right, while the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Elvy calls her book a small novel in small forms.

However you choose to categorize the everrumble, read it on a sunny afternoon in New Zealand as I did. Or a rainy weeknight in Amsterdam or on the train during your daily commute. You will be rewarded by the unique character of Zettie who hears more than you and I could ever imagine.

P.s. If you can, buy the hard copy if the everrumble to enjoy the marvelous illustrations by the Ethiopian artist Eyayu Genet.

15 Jan 2020 | Karen Kao