Tuesday, January 16, 2007

silence

into the silence we fade,
a few simple words ringing
through the night air.
the clouds had come down the sky
like a curtain, the hard wind
slashed the lake edge,
driven waves knifing the beach;
boats prowled slowly in the grey past.
now all is still, the moon full and silver
glistening above our lights;
the lake dries her eyes,
tears pooling on the path.
it’s so quiet I can hear you breathe,
the air so cold I feel my skin
crackle and shift like new ice.
we walk like a woman singing
the same words over and over,
bells filling the places between cold stars
by echoing, echoing; we fade,
silent, even our footsteps forgotten
in the endless rush of the waves.
they surge in, ruffling the feathers
of sleeping waterbirds, and breathlessly wander away,
leaving behind little trails of foam
like half-recited words,
unformed poems.
I look at you in the moonlight, the starlight,
and I think things like: forgetfulness;
I could drown in your waters, your chambers,
your echoing, four-beating heart.



This is one of my own favorite poems of mine. Originally written in Madison, WI, when I was living there in the late 80s and early 90s; written probably before 1990, although I forget exactly which year. Some of the images comes from living just two blocks from Lake Mendota, near James Madison Park, on the isthmus.

It was another vision-poem, in that I wrote it before the events it describes actually happened; other poems have happened that way, too. It's like, you see something in your mind's eye, then write it down; then your life grows into it, fills out its shape in the air, and it comes true, in whatever equivocal, almost-unknowable sense we can ever know the truth.

I like this poem's quiet, contemplative tone; underneath, passionate feeling moves, like an underground river. I saw myself walking by the lake, on the park trail, with someone I loved, walking side by side, in silent companionship. After a storm, the air washed clean by rain, the path still wet underfoot. Have you ever noticed how these most profound moments of connection are wordless, inexplicable? They take place in moments of comfortable, companionable silence. I have had many such moments with close friends.

Every poet should know: these words you love so well are to you, in the end, almost useless, or completely useless. They will betray you. Often your best poems will be silent, and unspeakable. Your word-hoard might only be something that cheapens or diminishes the moment. So, if you have this moment, poet, let it be. Leave it alone. Let it be itself.

The rest is silence.

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