…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
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
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.