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Oh, What a Night

by Sara Backer

Towels don’t dry. Swollen doors can’t shut. The house collects swelter—92 degrees inside. Half asleep at night, I hear a man and woman talking in the basement. Intruders! No, intruders wouldn’t chat for fear I’d call police. Am I hallucinating? I shut off the air conditioner—the voices stop. I turn it back on and a radio chat show reaches the edge of my hearing. Listening harder changes the conversation into Gregorian chant. As I start to find a rhythm, it becomes—sort of—the radio hit played nonstop through my freshman year in college. I return to a sultry August night with dancing in the quad between four dorms, me watching from the window of my room. Everyone cheers when the song begins, as if “late December back in ’63, what a very special time for me” had meaning for eighteen-year-olds who were pre-schoolers then. Giddy with my brand new independence, I wonder if one of the boys in the quad might become my first boyfriend. I calculate odds: about 150 of the about 250 are male and if a match requires a 1%, there’d be a boy for me. I put on mascara and a halter top, but I’m too shy to go downstairs and join them. The mirror shows me who I am: the girl who analyzes from afar. What happened to the music? The sneaky air conditioner shifted to fan mode, rumbling like a motor.

Sara Backer, an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine arts, has published two poetry chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt (dancing girl press) and Bicycle Lotus (Left Fork) which won the Turtle Island Poetry Award. Recent and upcoming online publications include Unbroken, Amaryllis, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Web site: sarabacker.com

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Oh, What a Night”?

When I started hearing voices coming from my air conditioner, I feared I was going crazy. I went online and was relieved to learn that was a common hallucination usually caused by fatigue. The motor noise is irregular enough for our sleep-deprived brains to interpret as voices or music. I cautiously brought up this topic with friends and was surprised to learn that they, too, had heard the AC speak to them! Never quite clear enough to nail down the words, but a very convincing radio substitute. I drafted “Oh, What a Night” under the influence of exhaustion. Unable to put up my usual critical filters, I followed my associations and landed on an August night years ago with similar weather. Barely 18 years old, self-conscious and shy, I couldn’t bring myself to join the dancing. Instead, I took refuge in analyzing the situation. As with most dreams, mine faded at the epiphany. The AC motor, which had become a musical time travel machine, went back to being a motor.

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