September 24, 2020

Transcript of The Slowdown (9/24/20)

I woke up to a flurry of notes from folks excited that my poem, "The Piano Speaks" (part of my second collection, I Was the Jukebox) is featured as part of Tracy K. Smith's podcast "The Slowdown." I'm excited too! 

But I believe in fighting for optimal access, which means podcasts should come with transcripts. Since they didn't release one, I made one to post here. 

Please ask podcast producers to create and release transcripts of their shows. The more pressure we create as a community, the more likely our requests will be honored. Eventually this can (and should) become a baseline standard of access. Access is love. 

#479: Transcript of The Slowdown Podcast with Tracy K. Smith

September 24, 2020 [Click here to visit the site's page with audio] 


[[Opening announcement for Better Help online professional counseling services. Listeners get 10% off the first month of services with the discount code “Slowdown.” Go to to learn more and make an appointment.]]


[Background music, instrumental.]


I’m Tracy K. Smith and this is The Slowdown.


[Music break.]


You know how they say that, when confronted with a photo, most peoples’ natural inclination is to seek out themselves? I suspect this might also be the case on videoconferencing platforms. I have Zoom meetings most every day, and I hate to admit it, but of all the faces in the tiny grid, my eyes keep gravitating back to my own. Is that what I look like when I talk? I find myself thinking. How is that the expression I make when I listen? What’s up with my mouth? And on, and on. I think I may have found the true culprit of the “Zoom headache.” 


My kids are the same way. For them, Face Time is just a chance to make loony faces in what is, essentially, a flashy mirror. With a tap of button I hadn’t previously known existed, they can turn themselves into foxes, or sharks, or—much to my dismay—poo emojis. Which is why it’s so exciting when I find them enthralled by a mound of dirt in the backyard, or bent over the pages of an actual book. They’ve wriggled free of the human compulsion for self-scrutiny. For however long it lasts, they’ve forgotten themselves entirely. 


The same goes for me when I sink into a good book, or sit in the backyard chasing after a woodland creature with just my eyes. That rapturous self-forgetting helps me temporarily cut ties who I am, and what I lack, and how soon I ought to get back to the task of trying to keep up with my betters. It’s been hard to get to that state under the current conditions. Everywhere I look, there’s evidence of me. Best are the days when something unexpected takes me by surprise. A song comes on, even a song I’ve heard a thousand times before, but this time it opens up a new door. Or, I turn the page onto a rapturous metaphor and finally, thankfully, I’m carried far far away from the cage of my own self-regard. 


I guess this is another of the lifesaving properties of art: the ability to carry us far beyond the limits of our known selves. Because the world is full of fascinating perspectives, and sometimes one very good form of self-care is to get lost in the world outside your head. 


Today’s poem is “The Piano Speaks,” by Sandra Beasley.


The Piano Speaks


After Erik Satie


For an hour I forgot my fat self, 

my neurotic innards, my addiction to alignment.


For an hour I forgot my fear of rain.


For an hour I was a salamander

shimmying through the kelp in search of shore,

and under his fingers the notes slid loose

from my belly in a long jellyrope of eggs

that took root in the mud. And what


would hatch, I did not know—

a lie. A waltz. An apostle of glass.


For an hour I stood on two legs 

and ran. For an hour I panted and galloped.


For an hour I was a maple tree,

and under the summer of his fingers 

the notes seeded and winged away 


in the clutch of small, elegant helicopters.


[Background music, instrumental.]


The Slowdown is a production of American Public Radio in partnership with the Poetry Foundation. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, on the web at



Update: The Slowdown has added an automated transcript service. 


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