Rae Armantrout, “Hey”

Sound may be addressed to you or it may not—I confess that when I’ve been neglected I’ve become more tense, felt my blood storm my mind, indulged anger. When I’ve been neglected, I have striven to be indignant, even if I was only composed of self-pity and whimpers.

I don’t quite relate to being lost. Did someone try to say something to me? Were they talking to someone or something else?

Was anything said? Or was there just sound? Armantrout’s first stanza, first sentence, thoroughly deconstructs one’s assumption of oneself. Maybe underneath my anger I secretly knew that I could not be sure I was being talked to or not. That I wasn’t allowed to think there was a world, just “sound,” and if there was a world, I could not be sure it was speaking to a “me:”

Rae Armantrout


may be addressed
                to you
or it may not.


A receipt,
blown crazily
across the parking lot,
was, perhaps,
a moth

The funny thing about “Sound may be addressed to you or it may not” is how so much can be said about a world of fragments and a fragmented self. Recently, I’ve dealt with abandonment a lot better than I have before. My anger has shaped itself into a greater sense of self-respect these last few weeks: I don’t need to put myself or other people down, but I can say with certainty that if I’m ignored, it’s the loss of the person ignoring me.

Trying to be real about what I’m feeling goes a long way. It’s helping me see that I do have to work with parts of a self, not necessarily shattered parts but parts which don’t strictly connect, experimenting with how they best fit together. What emotions and habits will help me best be an advocate? What will keep me calm in the face of stupidity and cruelty? What helps me contribute and sincerely be there for people? In order to get an answer that works for you, you have to assume you are whole. “Sound may be addressed to you or it may not,” but that blank in Armantrout’s verse between “addressed” and “to you” is suggestive. It makes you hesitate for a moment—you read “Sound may be addressed…to you” and wonder if those words, themselves a sound, are actually meant for you. It’s a sly joke. You read the words—you took another’s and breathed life into them—you addressed yourself with a sound you have yet to unlock.


After working through the skepticism of the first stanza, one knows one can say “Hey.” But then what? A receipt, blown crazily across the parking lot, was, perhaps, a moth. I can’t but feel Armantrout is in dialogue with Sartre about life, non-life, and our perception of both or either:

Mobiles have lives of their own. One day when I was talking to Calder in his studio, a mobile which had been at rest became violently agitated and came at me. I stepped backwards and thought I was out of reach. But suddenly when this violent agitation had gone, and the mobile seemed to have recoiled into rest, its long majestic tail, which had not yet moved, lazily, almost reluctantly came to life. It turned in the air, and then swung right under my nose. These hesitations, renewals, gropings, blunders, brusque decisions, and, above all, this marvelous swan-like nobility make Calder’s mobiles strange creatures existing between matter and life.

Sartre, “Existentialist on mobilist”

Calder’s mobiles are meant to imitate something animate. A great deal of effort goes into constructing a device which the wind could rouse, presenting a range of behaviors. What of a receipt in a parking lot? Armantrout does not let us call it more trash than art. Perhaps it was a moth, a wholly animate being. And perhaps you should have said “hey,” or seen that it was saying “hey.”

The second stanza is a quiet imperative. We were preoccupied that sound could reach us, but then we realized it very much could. In similar fashion, we watch what we imagine to be trash floating by. For a moment, it’s almost like life is a joke centered around that scene with the plastic bag from American Beauty. But I don’t think the title of the poem lets us go there. You wouldn’t say “hey” to a discarded receipt or a moth, but to respond to the sensation that there is life beyond you—well.

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