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Friday, July 28, 1995

silence

silence

At this high bridge begins silence, even
as whitecapped water beneath
runs against rock and fills the hearing

with its white roar; this is not the sound
of human trivialities, of men disrespecting
women, or women turning aside

with embarrassed smiles from men,
or the sound of pulling of tabs,
ripping of aluminum, or assorted

purrs and rumbles of fire along the pavement
wrapped in steel. She gathers her oldest friends,
space blanket, matchsafe, whistle, map,

cheese, bread, water bottle, and poncho,
and stuffs them in her tattered fireman's vest.
This is a new place, but deduction finds

the lightly traveled path, snaking across
a landscape steeped in stillness.
The vine maples have yet no leaves,

and the moss-lined nests in their jointures
contain no eggs. There are times
when tall firs on these ridges

creak and suffer, a forest of masts
in a wind-swept harbor: this is no such time.
She has been used to walking alone in forests;

has walked among peaks dawn-rosy
at sunrise, or hunkered under the wuther
of rain-heavy winds, or under smother of clouds

among tree-trunks. Now, for a sudden,
she stops, puzzling her alienness. What
can be different? There are yellow violets,

trilliums, oxalis. She gathers moss and horse lettuce,
a couple of conks, and pebbles, yet connection
is missing. Her heart leaps cold in her chest,

and her pulse rattles. On an impulse she whirls
round on her track, examines
the trail behind her and a hillside of

silences. The silence is plural, but how
do you read absence? What does she not see?
Bear? Cougar? It is a feeling one has

when the sights of the rifle are trained
on the back of one's neck. Often in life
she has felt this, but only in cities

and the lifelines of cities, those rivers
of asphalt and their pageant of strangers.
She must establish herself here, she feels;

some introduction has been omitted. She searches
her vest and locates an old pipe,
a treasure remaining from another life;

it goes where she goes, though she thinks of it seldom.
There is little tobacco in the bowl, but enough,
and she chooses a bit of mountain,

a leaf of kinnikinnick, to add. Self-consciously
borrowing culture, she aims the pipe
at four points of the compass, the grey sky,

the soundless earth at her feet, then sits
fumbling with the lid of her matchsafe.
Fire lit, she sends smoke quietly aloft.

It rises uncertainly, then finds the drift
of cold air sliding downslope into evening.
Whatever seemed angry seems to her angry still,

but gives way before the smoke of offering,
and makes with her a capful of truce: she will not
be eaten today, it seems, tripped up, or smashed.

She will not name the place, "place where I broke
my leg" or "place where I lost my spirit."
In return, she must finish this hike now

and not soon return. Replacing the horse lettuce,
conks, moss, and stones, she wryly smiles
a little: if this is superstition, so let it be,

she says to herself. We do what we have to do.
The silence, which she'd thought a hieroglyph
of an unknown tongue, nods and agrees.

  

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