…one hundred kinds of silence                                                                                     according to the Chinese belief,                                                                                             each one distinct from the others

 but the differences being so faint                                                                                          that only a few special monks                                                                                                  were able to tell them apart

from “Grave” by Billy Collins

5 A.M.

On Mission I know the trucks are running

but it’s quiet here in my den,

except for an animal scuffling in the attic

a scuffling amplified by the wall heater.

There are trillions of noises

and new ones manufactured all the time

the sound of packaging tape, for instance,

ripped into strips like artificial skin

and there are the ancient sounds

an apple thunking on the roof.

Sounds vastly outnumber the hundred silences

so the silences shouldn’t be hard to catalogue.

I may as well try

(numbering is based on esoterica only

a monk would give a rat’s ass about.)

Here’s one: the silence

of all you’ve procrastinated doing

plug the gaps in the eaves to keep out the vermin

yell at the squirrels for taking one stupid bite out of the still-green apples

put a note in the package saying sorry for being so out of touch.

Here’s another, number 26: the silence after someone, real or imagined,

says It’s a brand new day, make the most if it.

The silence of pretend it’s good for you.

Okay. It’s a new day. Today I am a scientist of silence.

I spot one in the low 40s:

the gap between the Goldberg Variations, when one stops

before another begins. God’s sewing machine.

I wasn’t even closely listening. It was aural filler,

a bulwark against silence number 9, the existential silence. A biggie,

don’t you agree? Let’s not talk about it.

There’s another. The things not talked about. Number 14.

The blackening banana peel draped over the rim of the coffee cup

signals number 99. The bottom third, (67-100) all seem to be pulled by a nag:

what are you doing with your slice of the banana cream pie of life?

Do this much. Put the peel in the worm bin.

Many noises masquerade as silence.

I won’t let them throw me off track.

The complacencies of the peignoir. Why does that come to mind?

No answer. Silence number 45.

The silence of no answer is always in the mid-range.

Suspended in a pseudo-silence like sounds underwater

each new day turns into the old day, then passes away.

Today I did not pin the wings of a single butterfly

of silence. Maybe if I meditate more but

to say there is silence when I sit on the zafu is ludicrous.

My mind cavorts like a drunk

polka-dancing. Still, there is one identifiable silence,

the silence of the skull encasing the mayhem. The skull wherever you find it

transports a specimen of silence.

Wishful thinking has a silence, now that I think of it:

the silence of entropy, number 37, of waiting

just waiting, still waiting for someone to make happen what needs to happen.

Or maybe doesn’t need to happen.

I’m back in bed before midnight. Somewhere in the country of sleep

I will skid into a patch of silence, I’m pretty sure. Calling it number

23 is totally arbitrary, I admit.

I make oatmeal for breakfast. The word oatmeal

Has a silence tucked right between its vowels.

It’s the silence of lowered expectations, reasonably

lowered expectations.

Look, another month has gone.

You get older and  minutes are packaged as days,

days as months, swaddled and delivered in feet upon feet

of clear plastic tape.

There ought to be a name for the sound of it sticking and unsticking.

The Germans will think of one. Until then, silence 18.

The Germans surely already have a word for nostalgia for what never occurred.

My doctor said that is what I am suffering from

that it’s radioactive with a half-life

of several reincarnations;

that’s enough to raise it to number 2.

A loveable silence is there somewhere, maybe 55,

the silence of disbelief when your friends

realize you’re telling them another fart joke.

Or this one: what’s the stinkiest day of the week?

Saturday, there’s a turd right in the middle of it.

Here’s Margaret tootling around her garden thinking nobody heard but

it’s really her own hearing going.

I suspect there is a panorama of silences in Margaret’s stroll.

Margaret are you grieving over goldengrove unleaving?

Well aren’t we all?

How’s this for number 1? The silence of pure wonder.

I wonder if monks tell fart jokes. I know nuns do.

Wait a second. I’m not going to end this poem with a fart joke

though it would entail some distinction as a first.

Excuse me for a moment. I’m going to go meditate.

A much better ending, don’t you think?

Silence number 9: the silence of the reader.




















5 responses to “A SCIENTIST OF SILENCE, cough cough

  1. Hurray! Like the way you changed the ending a bit. -F.

  2. The silence of the reader trying to come up with a clever comment followed by the silence of coming up with its correct number.

  3. Very nice ending….

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