Behind the hiss and ring that is the damage I have done
in the brash ensembles of my foolish hours lies a stillness

I may never touch again, though I know too, as John Cage
says, none alive touches true stillness and survives. There

will always be a hum of nerves, without which silence goes
unheard, however presupposed, half a figure, half a ground,

the shadow of a voice, a cry, perhaps, or, if we listen deeper,
a sonic landscape. Silence as the ghost that walks the long


Whenever I approach the frogs,
………….after the night sky has drifted

up from the bottom of the pond,
………….they all go still, invisible, mute,

as if song were light and silence shadow
………….and their fragility my own.

So this is how death must feel,
………….leaning in to touch a child’s face

who vanishes, as nightmares do,
………….before the light can see them.

Far as I know, the frogs are the story
………….their chirping tells, and I

believe, seeing at the water’s edge
………….only stars where I dare not step,


In the beginning, there was no number
one, not as the ancients fathomed it.
To be numbered, language needed two
or more, taken as one. A conversation.
At two, we were just beginning to speak
to them, and to the others, this one, that.
Every voice, a little song. I am told,
when I first heard music, I heard no
numbers, then I did. I listened close
to count the footsteps in my fourths, fifths,
the odd sums that could not be broken
and be a music still. They moved me.
The many numbers in any one, the one
rapture in the many, speechless and alone.

from Narcissus in the Underworld: 1-8

Somewhere in the middle of my life,
in the shadow of towers that wall the street,
I turned, and in the traffic and the talk
and clash of horns in contrary motion,
someone called, but what I saw was no one.
Only the multitude, a hundred-some,
and the furious drifts of steam that rose
through grates of iron in the sidewalk.
There I was, confused in the general
havoc. I turned, the way death turns
a mirror to the wall, or a home to some
mausoleum of coats, hats, black umbrellas.
Somewhere in the middle of the night,
my brother called, and I became an orphan.


Geoffrey Hill is dead, and still, now, as I read his words,
his voice keeps crossing over. And a woman at a nearby

table says to her companion, I am so many people these days—
mother, child, whore—I feel exhausted. And as she laughs,

her unlit cigarette keeps making little circles, and the other
woman listens. I want to say, I know the feeling, when I know

I cannot. I want to break through unspoken boundaries.
I cannot write of Nobody, says Hill. No one to narrate this.

The Republic

When the Star-Spangled Banner crackled into fragments
of applause, and cannons thumped the sky with blanks,

the poison in the thermometer sank a little deeper,
but hell, if we would let that keep us from our children,

however lame our backs or vulnerable the offensive line;
the price we pay, knowing a sacrifice for the team spoke

volumes of our ritual need to pretend victory or loss
would matter much or long or express some higher purpose,

a power more sharply felt in the shock that sweeps us
into one hush, one speechlessness where anthems go,


In a wasteland south of the Great Salt Lake, the man on the cliff edge calls,

his voice lost among the echoes. Each echo stranger than the last, more

removed from the throne and throat of human error. So vast the emptiness

I cannot tell you what is echo, what a voice. One bird becomes two,

two—in silence—one, and still, to me, the many. Where there is design,

there is a story. Where there is beauty, the ache of light that is everywhere

broken. Two birds become one, one the many, a flock against the sheer


My father’s flashlight led me down a flight
of the trapdoor stairs that shivered on their springs,

and there in the basement, the icebox was our lord,
our great provider, fat, white, streamlined

as a Studebaker or bathosphere, stuffed
with what it takes to survive a nuclear flash,

should it arrive. Here, he said. We will be okay.
Everything will be okay. And I trusted him

because I had no other, and winter was a place
I could not touch. Every white the chalk

that frames the flesh gone missing in the blaze.
Every vision broken and still we dreamt, cold