Summer Reading Series: The Saddest Song in the World by Chris Tse
Each week over the summer we are posting new fiction, non-fiction and poetry by Aotearoa writers. This week, poet Chris Tse shares a poem from his forthcoming collection, He's So Masc.
It’s been a personal quest of mine to find the saddest song in the world. Many of the poems that I’m writing at the moment explore the role of music in our lives and its relationship to memory. I’m particularly interested in how music functions as a conduit for shared experiences. This poem ponders what ‘the saddest song’ could mean to different people.'
The saddest song in the world
I can fit the saddest song in the world in my carry-on.
I can fit the saddest song in the world in my right-side brain.
But I can’t fit it in my lungs or hold on to it with confidence
when underwater. And I can’t fit the saddest song
on one side of a 90-minute cassette tape without
an uncomfortable interlude cutting into its breath.
There is only so much space I can allocate to the saddest
song in the world; the weight is unbearable.
The saddest song in the world is the boy you kissed as a dare.
The saddest song in the world is a fist without purpose.
But the saddest song is not the worst day of your life
and it has never had its heart broken by the same man twice.
The saddest song in the world would never lose its keys
behind the couch or leave drowned teabags in the sink.
The saddest song in the world will treat you to a meal at
a fancy restaurant: twelve verses with matching wines.
When we sing our hope to pieces, the saddest song in the world
is there to provide notes. It is honest, but constructive.
Every night the world shakes as the saddest song adds another
verse to its menu then swallows the moon.
Everybody knows the saddest song in the world. They loop
it in delivery rooms and maternity wards as Baby’s First Song.
The saddest song in the world has no title, no lyrics, no melody,
no fixed abode: it floats between throats that harbour it
for those moments when we are in need of a voice
of reason a song to frame the fog and light.
I have heard the saddest song in the world at night clubs.
I have heard the saddest song in the world at funerals.
I have heard the saddest song in the world during the credits
of films about forgotten artists and journeys into outer space.
The saddest song in the world is always ready
for its entrance, never once missing a cue.
Once, a lover exhaled my name in ecstasy and transformed it
into the saddest song in the world all bolting nerves
and tender skin pulling at the roar of the avalanche
in me. By morning, his name had taken another form
one freed from the haze of giddy crush though it still rings in me
a stubborn joy. The room in which we sung each other’s names
is now an altar with no idol. Likewise, when I was once lost
in the company of foreign tongues every new word shared
to describe the sorrow of joy shook me like the saddest song
in the world. A list of first loves. An index of loss.
The saddest song in the world was kind enough to pull me back
into comfort its reassurances a cool blade of sound.
Instruments and samples heard on the saddest song in the world:
My first guitar
String quartet in the rain
The last line of every romantic movie
Accordion with punctured lung
Tenor horn with stage fright
A dying horse’s final wish
Footsteps (broken glass)
Baby’s last word
Movies about dying pets
A supercut of old men sobbing
Books burning in a town square
Lightning striking a country house
A single father scraping burnt toast
Dorothy letting go of Oz
A glimpse of a parallel
The last remaining pair of reading glasses (smashed)
Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ | Rebekah Del Rio’s ‘Llorando’
Imagined duet between a grandfather and his grandson
An ex-lover sleeping in the next room
A prom queen’s address to her people
‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’.
Don’t forget that sometimes people leave, that lines of
connection will be drowned by seas of noise. We hover
hands above stovetops to test for heat, but what can we do to
warn ourselves of impending absence? Don’t forget to share
your sadness, in parcels sent from the mainland, your blacks and
blues in search of the spectrum. There are consequences to consider
when you share the saddest song in the world with desperate
people. Some will take its words and stretch them towards
new meanings, beyond their humble origins. It must mean
this, or it must mean that. But the song snaps back into place
like a rubber band, a muscle trained to withstand the momentum
of loss. They set houses on fire to entice the saddest song
back into their nights. The fires are colourless, lacking in rhythm
and harmony. They keep eating themselves before dawn.
You wonder how one song can do so much with the same
number of hours in each day open to the rest of us. One minute
the song is spat from the windows of a passing car, the next
it’s the ringtone of the teenage girl next to you on the bus.
Hours later you shuffle home from work and catch
the saddest song being interviewed on TV, still bright and ready,
about the latest political scandal. This productivity makes
no sense to you. In fact, it downright stings you in your palms.
Hang the cross out to dry. Time is a side worth fighting for,
to gather your children in an empty room and teach them
the meaning of patience. Let the saddest song pull the oxygen
from the room, just enough to let you slip unknowingly into
the next day. When the time comes, let me pull you from
the orchestra pit, your body waxing itself into a new tune.
I will usher you to where the saddest song will be waiting
for you—yes, you—with a mouth eager to drink your hum.
I met a woman who claimed to have been married to
the saddest song in the world. She showed me
a discoloured photo of their wedding day and pulled her dress
out of a box marked ‘Misc’. Nobody came to the wedding
except for the woman’s neighbour and a passer-by
who successfully negotiated an appearance fee.
The saddest song stayed silent during the ceremony
keeping its reservations to itself yet again
just like all its other weddings. Yes, this was not the first time
the saddest song in the world had been married. Nobody ever
accuses the saddest song in the world of being a con artist or
polygamist. It is merely giving people the chance to experience
its company for themselves with no influence from outside noise.
The saddest song in the world just wants to know you’re happy.
Slice the saddest song in half and the rings you see won’t give you
its age: each ring is another betrothal to another anxious soul,
each one more complicated than the last. The saddest song
in the world spends half its annual income on spousal support.
Times are tough: radio is fickle and MTV no longer plays music.
The saddest song in the world needs a new distribution model.
When the saddest song in the world dies there will be no obituary
or funeral. There will be no opportunistic tribute albums or
documentaries, and musicians will not issue sappy statements
recalling how the saddest song influenced their own work.
You will know the second it has happened. Perhaps you’ll be
in your car listening to an argument on talkback radio
or in your backyard collecting washing from the line.
It will be a where were you when it happened? moment,
only no one will actually know what it is that has happened.
The air will appear thinner for the briefest of seconds
and your neighbour’s dog might start snapping at an invisible guest.
The lifetime of loss you carry draped over your shoulders
will take its cue to fall away. You will make out
for the first time the sound of birds diving through clouds
as the saddest song in the world glides into its fade out.
The saddest song in the world has left the building.