Silence is all we dread.There's Ransom in a Voice -- But Silence is Infinity. Himself have not a face.
Andy and I have been driving from Burlington, Vermont and back to New Haven a lot lately. Headed north from New Haven, the rise of New England and her green mountains unfolds like mighty sets of biceps, whose arms stretch out and point up and up till we reach the shores of Lake Champlain. Heading south from Burlington to New Haven feels like packing too many clothes into a small, square suitcase.
There is one particularly magical stretch of Route 89 between Montpelier (Capitale du Vermont, 12 KM) and Burlington that’s cause for pause. At this place, the road cuts through a jut of rocks, and for a second or two the road is pinched narrow between the cragged and geometrically planed ravine. Andy calls this pass Silent Rock. When we drive through, heading north or south, at the very start of the rock, we turn off the radio and look ahead, silent. “Yeah, but the funny thing At the end of the pass, the radio's back on and one of us is finishing our sentence. “about it is, there wasn’t even a stove in the house!” Maybe it’s six seconds long, maybe two. But, that silence inside the lash of our speed barreling down the highway has got gravity. It feels like we are living a line out of an Emily Dickinson poem. Silent Rock is our dash.
A friend told me the other night that her son’s been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea. She’s relieved because now there is a name for what’s been going on in his sleep. He simply stops breathing. Snores like an old drunkard. (He’s two.) And then stops breathing again. Maybe he’s got a Silent Rock in his sleep. He is left in the morning exhausted, hungry, clingy, and grumpy. There are various contraptions, of mediaeval proportion, that people strap themselves into to in order to stop themselves from stopping breathing. In this child’s case, he’ll have his tonsils and adenoids out. The cavities where those body pieces will be-apneas of flesh.
In a yoga class the other day, for which I was totally unprepared and much too inflexible, the instructor would remind us in the midst of the hardest most twisty, muscular moves-- to breathe. The sound of breath would rise up again from all of us in the class, as we remembered that we actually need to make conscious the things that are automatic. Like forgetting to breathe is actually a natural thing.
So what of these holds and breaks that we construct or that the body stores as reflexes? All the spaces of silence between things makes me think there is a poem in that. (In truth, there are many poems in that, this is not a new idea!)
Last night on my way south again, I was blasting sad, old John Prine on the radio as I drove straight through Silent Rock. When I realized I missed the place of silence, I felt sick, unholy, and sorry. But, I couldn’t figure out why.
Charles Simic writes of poetry that he’s “in the business of translating what cannot be translated: being and its silence." In the silence, there is witness to being. In silence there is witness to being-even if you are holding your breath, and grumpy or twisted, staring ahead, or alone in the car, you are sharing the silence with being. And silence is the twin of being. Poetically speaking. The excitement of holding your breath passing a graveyard or going through a tunnel is the same thing. Superstition, or an empathetic gesture for the dead or the still? We are honoring, in our apnea, a ghostly infinity, honoring the silence we are not, just to prove we are alive.