Monday, June 1, 2015

David Wagoner: "The Silence of the Stars"

When Laurens van der Post one night
      In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen
              He couldn't hear the stars
Singing, they didn't believe him. They looked at him,
      Half-smiling. They examined his face
              To see whether he was joking
Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
      Who plant nothing, who have almost
              Nothing to hunt, who live
On almost nothing, and with no one
      But themselves, led him away
              From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
And stood with him under the night sky
      And listened. One of them whispered,
              Do you not hear them now?
And van der Post listened, not wanting
      To disbelieve, but had to answer,
              No. They walked him slowly
Like a sick man to the small dim
      Circle of firelight and told him
              They were terribly sorry,
And he felt even sorrier
      For himself and blamed his ancestors
              For their strange loss of hearing,
Which was his loss now. On some clear nights
      When nearby houses have turned off their televisions,
              When the traffic dwindles, when through streets
Are between sirens and the jets overhead
      Are between crossings, when the wind
              Is hanging fire in the fir trees,
And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove
      Between calls is regarding his own darkness,
              I look at the stars again as I first did
To school myself in the names of constellations
      And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,
              I can still hear what I thought
At the edge of silence were the inside jokes
      Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,
              The C above high C of my inner ear, myself
Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:
      My fair share of the music of the spheres
              And clusters of ripening stars,
Of the songs from the throats of the old gods
      Still tending even tone-deaf creatures
              Through their exiles in the desert.

"The Silence of the Stars" by David Wagoner, from Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1999). Text as published in Poetry (December, 1997).

Art credit: "Music of the Spheres 2," fractal print by Scott Bricker.

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