Maria Tessa Liem

Maria Tessa Liem is a writer living in Montreal

The Slight Difference in Frequency Generates a Beat

Maria Tessa Liem is the author of “Exact Fraction,” a poem that appeared in Issue 32 of The Puritan. We’re pleased to present Liem’s explanation of what influenced the poem’s composition.

I spent some night or day watching a video over and over again. It was not the one of one dog hugging another dog or the one of frogs gathering to watch a video of worms. It was not the one of a goat headbutting a mirror. Unlike those videos, this one particular video is no longer available. There’s no reason to build a mystery around it, but since I’ve gone back to look for it and it’s gone, I am slightly concerned that the video never existed in the first place. I’ve looked for other, similar videos and none are as perfect as the one I couldn’t stop watching. It featured tuning forks and subtitles explaining what some arms in white lab coat sleeves were doing to the tuning forks. It soothed me. It explained beat frequencies—how if you have two identical tuning forks on sounding boxes near each other and you hit one, the other one will resonate in sympathy. But then they attach a weight to one tuning fork, or its sounding box—I don’t remember—and hit both of them. Then the slight difference in frequencies generates a beat. I carried this line around with me for a while though I can’t say how long. I can’t even remember if I actually wrote the line, lifted it from Wikipedia, or the video.

I can’t even remember if I actually wrote the line, lifted it from Wikipedia, or the video.

It’s not that I think the idea is fascinating. It’s not because I think the tone of the tuning forks in this video may have been perfect. It is that one of the tuning forks had a weight on it. It is that the sound of the one tuning fork with a weight on it interfered with the sound of its weight-less twin tuning fork and this felt like it generated a sympathetic pulse. It is that I had been thinking about Aristophanes a lot, or rather, Plato’s Symposium and the story about the twins, how once we had four arms and four legs. It is that I was lying around in bed a lot. It is that I had been thinking about whether or not writing about race was something I was allowed to do. I had been thinking myself into parts and inside jokes where the white part of myself was exploiting the Asian part to make some art and I didn’t know if it was OK or funny or anything. It was that I had at least two voices telling me to do slightly different things. Say something; say something else. Write one poem about it, or maybe two, but no more than two. Maybe the two poems will be the same poem divided into two halves and then maybe you’ll be done with it.

Maria Tessa Liem’s writing has been published in The Malahat ReviewSoliloquies Anthology, Petal Journal, and on the Metatron ÖMËGÄ BLÖG. She writes, reads, eats, and sleeps in Montreal and sometimes tweets here & here.

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