After Long Silence
When I decide, after long silence,
to write again, to right the wrongness
of silence, I begin by writing the date
(the rite of time) on the page.
It’s something to write, as something to say
can always be about the weather, another
rite of time, for always we have weather,
never not, there is no “weather or not.”
Time is both a when and an always, as,
for example, today, October 4, 2009 A. D.,
a brand new day -- and days when new are
brand new, since “brand new” (a brand being
a fiery stick) meant, originally, “fresh from the fire” –
like a new-born Phoenix? Or the potter’s bowl,
just out of the kiln? or any day, pouring from
the rising sun.
A brand new day, never been seen before, and yet
just another October, another 4th, another year
in century 21 in the current system of counting years,
preceded by many other such systems, isn’t that time,
something old, something new, something borrowed
(us, to experience it), something true blue, for how faithful
we’ve been to this agreement, this marriage of spirit
and matter, nodding and twiddling our fingers to the endless
beat, endlessly willing (for the sake of an agreement,
of not being alone) to suffer the beat blues.
Time – nothing older, nothing newer, except
right now, you, me.
There have been other ways to count years,
other seasons, other ways to mark time --
branding it to claim we own it, or,
failing to own it, other ways to KILL time --
other suns, regularities, calendars, rates
of creation, and for all that, today is today,
only today, the day on which I begin, again
to write. Not so damned “only.”
The phrase, “After Long Silence,” occurs
at the start of a Yeats poem, something about
finding rusty words to croak out
to his long-unseen muse, Maude Gonne
(ominous last name). I remember reading
that line, that poem, and lots of other Yeats poems
one college summer – 1962 (just before marrying
my own (5 years later) long-gone, whose last name
was Reitz, pronounced (aha!) “rites” or “rights” or “writes”,
my own rites of spring and fall, my own lost time
(meaning unlost, obsessively present, nothing more present
than a ghost, but that, too, has past, and I am singularly
unhaunted, mentioning that maiden name
only to compete with the goneness of Gonne and,
I suppose, the maudlin Maude.)
I didn’t like something about the Yeats poem,
an emptiness into which the ghostly ardor
kept slipping. But I was impressed by the eloquence
he could achieve with plain quiet phrases like
“After long silence.” Someone called lines like this
We don’t count dead lines repeated, turned
into anti-chants, like Vonnegut’s “and so it goes.”
It’s, rather, the one-time phrase, just dropped into time
and allowed to sink, perhaps John Lennon’s suggestion
(accepted by Paul) that “She was just seventeen,
A real beauty queen” be changed to “She was just seventeen,
If you know what I mean,” but at that time Beatles
were Gods of youth, and it is unfair to place
a mere great poet in their blinding light, for then
they could do no wrong, only write.
This is no poem for young men. Nor is it
a haiku, which is just seventeen,
if you know what I mean, syllables is what I mean,
and in return, they mean (or demean) Dean.
But even in 17 or fewer syllables,
a haiku can harbor ghosts.
I am not old (some insist), but I begin to appreciate Yeats,
not that I’ve changed my mind about his deficiencies,
his posturing and lack of center and making a pseudo-passion
of his inability to feel much, patched over with eloquence.
But the stock of mere eloquence is rising. He took
tiresome dualisms like mind vs. body and made them
memorable or memorial…or at least memorizable.
And I wish I’d said “That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.”
After long silence (and perhaps twisty lines
full of puns and equivocation are another way
to be silent) – after long silence,
I become the silence
(only distant sirens, ambulances carrying off
the human to become silence or perhaps
science and later, seance),
and let the silence speak.
Dean Blehert’s life has gone on (so far)
while I’ve been absent from these pages.
If you hold these sheets to your ear
like a shell torn from a gong-tormented sea,
you can hear the ocean
of my mostly absent life.
Your ear is more shell-like than this page,
ear and shell, both whorled. Through
whorled ear we absorb a world, which rotates,
a whirled world. Why ARE ears molded
so oddly, all these curved folds whose names
biologists must memorize? Acoustic shapes
to sculpt sound, mute, amplify, gather, direct?
And flaps and slopes (sticky, not slippery)
to protect a secret passage. I hope you don’t find
these passages obscure. So like the glassy opening
of a spiral shell. Sea shell held to the ear, like to like,
mirror reflecting mirror to suggest an infinity,
shell re-echoing shell to suggest an ocean,
ocean multiplying its static of reflections
to suggest, beneath the welter of whispers
a coherence, more wordly than worldly.
Yeah? So? You wanna make something of it?
Yes! Oh yes!
Ears don’t talk. Empty shells
resonate best. Long silences…
Emptiness can tell us we contain
infinities, which encourages me
to speak, even if it seems
only silence is speaking.
(As I revise this, it is spring, pollen season.
I suffer from a silence condition.)
If I have any wisdom, most of it
is my continuing to be here (you have
no idea how long I’ve continued
to be here!), and from here
I keep talking to you.
there are times when constancies
that are alive are scarce.
Polaris – a wise star? Or simply
a reliable presence for one who is lost,
maybe dumb as a post, but a PARTICULAR post,
a peculiar post –
when this body was small, I confused
“particular” and “peculiar”, and perhaps
have become a particu-liar –
a post (in Flatland?) you recognize if, lost,
you stub your toe against it and are, thus,
if only a little, found. Isn’t that a sort
of wisdom, a beginning of wisdom –
recognition? Or, anyway, stumbling thus,
you might look around and notice that
you cannot be utterly lost, for you are
So what is the use of someone like me?
That no one else quite says what I say
the way I say and say it.
That makes me a particular (part tickler)
and peculiar post or imposture.
You, some “you”, read these words,
and you recognize me here
(the proprietor of all these pronouns, but of few
proper nouns and other proprieties),
and that locates you: You are the one
who is here with me and recognizes me.
Just by my talking to you this way,
I recognize you. You are one
who understands what I’m saying.
Perhaps you, my reliable reader,
find me when I’m lost. We find
each other, two constellations,
two soldiers keeping in step with one another,
mutual echoes in the fog.
It has been my mistake
again and again to undervalue
what I do here, because no one
pays me to do it, and there are so many other
things to be done in the world.
Also there are stars of a magnitude
and brilliance and steadiness
far beyond my own, so I think,
what need MY little (fresh? authoritative?) voice,
my dim beacon to guide others through
But it’s not like that. The brightest stars,
on foggy nights, are obscured. Each light,
however faint and flickering, has its use.
Someone in some deep cave perishes
for want of only my light, only
my recognition. Someone, ignoring
sun, moon and stars – hating them
for showing him an unreal world –
sails toward wave-bashed cliffs,
unwilling to be warned off by any light but mine,
because once, long ago, I said something to him
that was real.
This is melodramatic. Well, why not?
On principle I refrain from mocking myself,
just this once. The waves and jagged rocks
are real, as are the lights that fail,
the sunken hopes – as real, at least,
as anything that passes for poetry.
Odd, though, how they come and go,
vivid, then obscure, as my beacon
moves over them and away. In full sunlight,
they are solid, weighty. Then
I am not needed. But when the sky and sea
are lost except in brief rifts the ghost moon
finds in swirling mist, then some
will be lifted up from despair, hearing that,
even after long silence,
I am speaking.