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On Hearing Voices


He's a very private person.
When he's alone, he smiles to think
that no one can know his thoughts
or feel his feelings, then thinks
something outlandish just to enjoy
its privacy, but "You've thought that
before," says one of his voices, and
"Who cares what you think!" says another.

His voices know him better than he knows
himself. He can hide nothing from them,
except when he takes his medication:
Then the voices are silent,
but he knows they still know --

unless he ups his medication:
The voices vanish. Now
not even they can know...
what is it they cannot know?


Why is the madman dense with voices?
Because the world is so dangerous
that the voices have nowhere else to go,
no one else it is safe to be.
Take your medicine -- make it
unsafe for the voices to be
even you.


Terrified of the world that may one day
give him what he deserves,
he will let no others be,
sees them as (that is, condemns them
to be) mysterious gestures
of a hidden, dimly malevolent presence.
They have no voices of their own.
He is filled with the voices
he will not let them have.
His drugs silence the voices,
obscure the presence. Shadowy figures
gesture and make noise,
he among them.


Some people hear voices.
Other people refuse to hear them
by calling them their own thoughts.
If a thought doesn't quite fit,
they trim it, tuck it in, complete it,
put a twist on it to make it their own.
This is what most people call sanity:
To be full of voices that are not allowed
to speak for themselves.


Governments hear voices
of dissent -- it drives them mad!
They cut off speaker after speaker,
but the voices grow louder, ruder
as if there were no speakers,
only voices, as if governments,
like nuts, could hear voices.


The physical universe
is an old bad argument
mumbling on & on
in the head of the guy
who lost it long after
the winner's gone home,

not even the guy's argument —
he just blundered in
like a kind-hearted kid
who tries to make sense
of what the drunk on the corner
with the fixed glare mutters
to no one.

B'rer Rabbit thought the tarbaby
was talking to him,
tried to answer,
and got so stuck
that some claim to hear
it mumbling now
with B'rer Rabbit's voice.


The nut in the asylum who says he's God,
he IS God. They put him away
because he claimed to be hearing
human voices.


Walking through the park,
I pass with embarrassment
a ragged man who talks loudly
to no one I can see.
Is that the way I sound
to passing angels
who can hear my thoughts?
And in what stillness dwells
the being who can hear
the incoherent babbling
of angels?


Munch's "The Scream" speaks:

The voices in my head goad me:
"Scream for us!" they chant; "You must
scream for us!" "Scream for yourselves,"
I reply. They scream and scream
in the echo chamber of my skull,
but their screams are swallowed up
by the thick wadding of air and color
that surround me. "Scream for us!"
they plead. I cover my ears,
but cannot silence them. I open my mouth,
but nothing comes out. I cannot move,
for there is no space to move into,
nor any to be in, so I am not.
No one is screaming this scream.
There is no scream.


Schizophenia, said the radio, means hearing
voices that aren't there -- like book reviewers,
who keep hearing "fresh bold authoritative voices"
that no one else can hear.


He turned off the TV to find out
what he was looking at. He turned off
the radio to find out what he was
listening to. He found his head
aswarm with pictures and voices
for which he has not yet found
the OFF switch.


No one can hear them. He gives them
his own voice and actions: He is their amplifier.


Hearing voices no one else can hear is not so bad -- but obeying them no matter what they say (throw away your money, drive your car into a parking lot and sit in it until the owner gets the police to drag you away when you won't talk to them or leave your car willingly...) — THAT'S almost as bad as marching to a different drummer!

A voice, to stick with us so and hold such authority, must have been visited upon us long ago and painfully, must threaten the return of incomprehensible agony if not obeyed, leaving little room for reason, ancient insanity emerging intact, like a shattered bowl assembled and preserved in lacquer.

Drugs do not diminish this voice vested with the authority of unconsciousness. They diminish the hearer's ability to hear, converting part of what we are yet able to be into a wall.

Whatever part of ourselves we use to wall off the enemy will soon learn to speak to us with the enemy's voice. In exchange for a day or year or lifetime of silence, we shrink. The voice swells up with the force of our refusal to hear it. When next it breaks the silence, we KNOW it is God's.


Who hears voices, hears voices.
How it must enrage the speakers to be told
they are imaginary -- "We'll show you
who's imaginary!" they fume, filling the world
with mechanical figures that even torturing
and chopping to bits cannot
make matter.


It's almost cozy,
this thick fog between me
and everything else, except
the TV whiteness is in here with me,
a moon reflecting my wavery vacancy,
no closer to me and no farther off
than the voices in my head,

and me such a precise thing now
because of all it can't touch,
precisely nothing at all
sitting very still like a rabbit
hunched on the verge of the trail
sitting still so long
it's become a rabbit-shaped niche
in concrete space.

Now something's buzzing about sympathetically,
trying to get in through the fog,
trying to be "you",
but all my "you" circuitry is bottlenecked
with heavy traffic: How-could-you's and
I'll-show-you's, the fog itself a maze
of circuitry shimmering with old force
that wants to use me to run amok,
smashing bodies and picture tubes —
I am paralyzed with resisting it.

Each time she brushes against it,
she gets a jolt of misdirected charge,
and disturbs this concentration
that uses me up holding everything still

and I can't even break through — because
I'm nothing in here, nullified
by all this electricity — to tell her
it isn't me, I'm hiding in here, I'm here, I'll be back —
this machine has to run down sometime,
it's a machine, it has to run
down and somewhere I still
I know she's not you,
you're you.



  Big Cats in Snow
Last updated: March 1, 2004