Al Maginnes: "Old Records"




Because they are unwritten chapters

of autobiography, not mine alone

but yours or anyone’s who ever went

into a room to listen to music alone,

whose ponytailed or dog-collared friends

hooted at the Gordon Lightfoot

or Carole King kept deep in the stack

to play when no one was around,


they were too fragile to maintain,

their patterns of scratches and dust

marking each record with its own

collection of competing noise,


I would save lunch money to buy

records filled with songs

I had not heard,

                           each one was

a universe, two-sided, incandescent.


A steel needle muscled through

the grooves of the $1.49 album I bought

at Colonial Grocery, a grab bag

of artists—Lulu, Mark Lindsay,

Pacific Gas and Electric, Santana—signed

to Columbia, its sleeve

standard issue psychedelia, all of it

slapped together with no sense

of how song fit into song.

                                          I played it

as obsessively as NASA’s scientists tried

to hear patterns in space dust and noise

to see if anything out there wanted

to speak with us. By then, Woolworth’s,

the furniture store, the five and dime all

offered a rack of records as it became clear

music sold more easily than end tables,

more consistently than white socks

or tricycles.

                    Impossible to say everything

songs promise, so I will not,

but understand—

                              we carried them

with us, imagining them

when we could not hear them

in those days before Ipods

or the now-vanished Walkman or phones

that dialed in songs from the air.

And like all things imagined,

they grew perfect.

                               I have compact discs,

hard drives crowded with songs,

more music than a lifetime

will absorb,

                     and I love none of it

more than I loved that tilted stack

of records, the edges

of their cardboard jackets dissolving,

the needle skimming the first fat groove

to grind out the opening notes,

the thinning voices that sang

through the dust of this one imperfect universe        

and all the ones still to come.



Al Maginnes's latest collections are Ghost Alphabet (White Pine Press, 2008), winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks published in 2010, Between States (Maine Street Rag Press) and Greatest Hits 1987-2010 (Pudding House Publications). He has published widely in journals, most recently in Terminus, Harpur Palate, Grist, Brilliant Corners, Baltimore Review, Verdad, Hampden Sydney Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Maginnes lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he teaches at Wake Technical Community College.