Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On silence

The house is quiet now. It's late, every one's sleeping and I'm thinking about silence. Outside it's not so quiet because night noises abound. I live in the woods and tonight it's the whine of crickets. Soon the cicadas will sing. Other evenings coyotes call across the fields to what I don't know. The three-quarters moon is hollering right now. Is there such a thing as silence any way? Even in my head I can't find quiet. Not in the world. Sometimes I can't stand words. I get tired of them. Of talk, discussion, of trying to make sense with sentences or fragments of sentences. Which seems odd for someone who loves words. Who wants to make pictures with words and who wants to also undo herself with words. Maybe my annoyance is the result of 5 days of non-stop talking during an extended family reunion. Which was wonderful, incredible. Catching up with folks I haven't seen in years. A good thing. Seeing my sister who lives far away and dissecting again our own little family conundrums. But my brain is overtaxed with talk. It feels stuffed, as if I've eaten too much.
And so I fell into a kind of silence as I went back to work and the daily activities. Avoided people. Scrubbed the kitchen table with bleach tonight. And landed here. And re-read something I wrote not long ago when asked about silence in my poetry. And my response included the idea of reticence, conflating the two concepts, and noting some of my mentors in this enterprise-- Stevens, Dickinson, Bishop. Do silence and reticence go together? And how does a poet make use of silence in her work? Does that happen through reticence? Through white space and deletion? How important, on the other hand is telling, is story-making? My unanswered question. Silence and word work are two endeavors that compel me, even as they bounce against each other in my head.
Here's how Bishop looks at silence.

The Moose
By Elizabeth Bishop
For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts. The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens' feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.
The Tantramar marshes
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night. Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston."
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb's wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores. Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents' voices

talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar
affirmative. "Yes . . ."
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
"Sure are big creatures."
"It's awful plain."
"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you."
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there's a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.

Friday, July 20, 2007

On being the snail

Libra Horoscope for week of July 19, 2007

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, born under the sign of Libra, has been described
by a fellow teacher as “a cross between a cloud, a snail, and a piece of heavy machinery—a true religious presence.” He translates his lofty visions into the most intimate and practical terms, even providing suggestions about how to get more spiritual inspiration out of breathing, eating and walking. Take a similar approach in the coming weeks, Libra. Bring heaven all the way down to earth. Make the smallest details of your life reflect your highest ideals.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

summertime and the living


The night is July, the aura is rain.
The bay is always at low tide.
Green slime covers the sand
Where herons stop, look and listen.
The sand is as thin as clay.

Men in the night
Leave their caravans and run
Across black grass
To the River Argideen
To claim a position for fishing
Like waiting at baggage claim.

The people in the temperance hall
Hold a dance that most of them watch
From their chairs bitterly.
They can see their shoes are history.

The world was remade before they died.

The herons on the Lee
Are slick with slime, fermenting.
Lots of money is exchanged
In the medieval town.
Beer is fomented in silver silos
And no fish swim. One day down
Carpe diem.
No one knows what's coming.

The nuclear weapons programs continue.
A boy in a trap drawn by an elegant horse
Trots through Clonakilty.
Men watch and women shop.
Organic food planted in the middle
Of gourmet olives and jellies.
Thanks and help
Are prayer words in fair trade and churches.

Just go in and have a drink at dark.
It's a kind of Sabbath.
In a public house you feel safe with the others.

By now you know the black river has fish
And flowers on it white and shaped
Like strawberry plants.
Two neon kingfishers speed by blue.

Everyone is there for everyone else's fun.
Those men in the night aren't so bad.

A body: this is what it feels
And this is what it feels like.

Sites of massacre and ashes, tin-topped rubble,
Porcelain ovens, jails, a waiting hospital.

Not when it's eternal low tide in a place outside
And birds drain the sand with their appetites.

Fanny Howe

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

No fireworks tonight

This white unswaying place

I'm sorry not to have written you sooner.
We are peculiar forms, like someone's old papers rifled quickly through
But not read before the burning.
How to speak of the icy cave-like place I lately feel,
Its white reluctance dividing me from all things I desire and see.
I think it must often be the case
That one holds within oneself a guardedness, expectant, steeply quarried,
The way mistakes grow magnified inside the mind, spiked and sharply gleaming.

How skilled, how dominant, this white unswaying place.
And I wonder how, bred from our churning, it constructs itself so strongly
Like the crush of light I sometimes at the noonhour hear.

By Laurie Sheck