The Lifeguard, part 7

31 October 2012

A buzzing in the ears as if bees
were swarming in my thoughts

or as if my head had become
a clearing in the forest

filled with the never-too-late serenades
of cicadas at summer’s end

makes me long for the gritty obscurity
of the west’s waves

or the suave silence of eastern lagoons
through which pouting fish

mutely swim. On the other hand,
if I listen carefully enough

to the sound of my own listening,
I might eventually hear something.

The hum of longing seems to fade at last
into a kind of aural impasto,

thick and bland, without apparent surface
but also without depth.

Neither meniscus nor void, without perspective,
not flat and not profound,

without extent or distance, not able to be touched
and incapable of penetration,

not flattened so as to stack up the shoreline,
the sea, the salty spume, the sky,

but not tricked out as a mirrored infinity
or a beach-walk into the never-never,

neither free nor necessary,
not imaginary and not a law of nature,

not spirit, not matter, without colour
but not the whiteness of all colour,

not abstract, not phenomenal,
not even the kind of paradox

that would let me end this
hapless catalogue, not ‘a jar’

both round and empty that might make
the wilderness gather itself

around a hollow core of form, nothing like that,
nothing like ‘a long-legged fly’

walking lightly on water
as a metaphor for the mind

moving across the surface of silence,
nothing like that –

so what am I saying? That this may be
the sound of consciousness?

But how, then, to imagine the silence
of oblivion, a kind of oxymoron,

since there can be no silence
where its opposite doesn’t equally prevail,

the waterlogged yells of those
whose upraised arms

mark places where the frothing rip
drags forests of kelp

in the direction of shipwrecks
whose phosphorescent ribs

flicker above their beds of black iron-sand,
or the hilarious shrieks

of revellers impacting
on the dawn-flushed harbour?

Yes, this could be the no-sound no-silence
of oblivion, but what

would I know? It’s the busy world
that sits outside my window

as if across a table
with wine and food on it.

Indifferent to the buzzing in my ears,
asking only that I listen and respond,

the world tells me stories.
That car whose windscreen glints across the bay

has a sad man in it. That yacht whose bow
pecks the wrinkled harbour

will still be tethered when
the next tide turns. The squawky sound

of talkback radio seems to come
from a patch of sunlight

or from the cat that basks there.
I want to call out to my lifeguards,

the one who watches my hope
flailing at the rip, the other

incurious as I loll in dismay:
Over here, guys. Find a seat. Fill a glass.

Help yourselves. Has anyone told you
what a great job you do?

It’s never too late. But listen to that.
You’re not going to believe it.

Tell me, friends –
what does that sound like to you?

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