Third snow day, and it’s only November. Driving from one side of the state to another, I travel through a landscape of gray — pavement, mountain — flanked by icy trees in that always questionable terrain around Bolton.
Then — the lake. I’m late already to work, with a list of things I absolutely want to do that day, check off, simply be finished with. But I turn around anyway, find a parking space and put an actual nickel in the meter, hoping no reader will be walking by in this snowy day.
The rain by then has turned to lacy snowflakes, the perfect kind for a child to lean back her head and open her mouth to catch a flake on her tongue. There’s no one out at all along the lake — improbably not even the dog walkers. Just all that snow, for just that moment.
You’re not searching.
How nice it is tonight.
Two birds fell asleep in your pocket.
In my twenties, I was a typist for a novelist who not only had the misfortune to suffer from severe carpel tunnel, but was also profoundly deaf. The deafness had contributed to her divorce, and she holed in up in her parents’ summer house in rural Vermont. Once a professional musician, she cleaned houses before landing a teaching job and turning to writing children’s literature to make a living.
Sitting side by side with me, she dictated her novel.
One morning, an unfamiliar alarm rang out in her study, so piercingly loud I instinctively bent over. I heard nothing but that sound. Fearing it was a fire alarm, I stood up, panicked. Then I saw the novelist, sitting in her chair, was mystified by my actions. She was entirely oblivious to the noise. To her, that alarm didn’t exist.
A red flashing light on her computer power surge system warned that the power had gone out. I shut down her computer. I explained what had happened. Then I stood there, rattled — both from the physical shock and from my glimpse into her immense silence.
After a hellacious week involving, among other things, painful injury, dire disease, divorce, despair, and unforeseen car repairs, I find myself reading my horoscope in the local paper, looking for good news.
There are potentially important messages you’re not registering and catalytic influences you can’t detect…. Now here’s the good news: You are primed to expand your listening field. You have an enhanced ability to open certain doors of perception that have been closed. If you capitalize on this opportunity, silence will give way to revelation.
That advice is some of the best I’ve received in quite a while. Children, quiet, please; I’m listening for revelation. While I’m doing that, please go pick up your socks or something.
A few days ago, I inserted Lucille Clifton’s “The Lost Baby Poem.” In graduate school, a professor passed around copies of this poem at the beginning of one workshop. We all sat there, silently, and then a friend of mine began to cry, tears streaming down her face, soundlessly.
My professor cleared his throat and said sadly, Nothing said about this poem is enough said.
My house of females has a lot of talking, but sometimes I remind my daughters that silence can be just as mighty, the absence of words as powerful – for good or ill – as speaking or writing. That sometimes enough is really enough.
To underestimate the appeal of art is to underestimate not only poetry but also human nature. Our hunger for myth, story, and design is very deep…. If we are not in love with poems, the problem may be that we are not teaching the right poems. Yet ignorance of and wariness about art gets passed on virally, from teacher to student. After a few generations of such exile, poetry will come to be viewed as a stuffy neighborhood of large houses with locked doors, where no one wants to spend any time.