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?