The Man Who Grew Silent

He had nothing more to say.

He hadn't gone to work in weeks.

His boss had let him go

After the first three days

When he wouldn't answer

Any of their questions.

But he's sure they parted as friends.

His wife took him by both shoulders And tried to shake some sense into him. He had not spoken to her since August And the nights were getting cold and long. His fingers trailed down her spine As she turned away and left the house. The trunk was packed already, the children On a bus. He waved from the porch as her car Disappeared. He turned around and smiled Into the almost empty room, TV With a blown tube and a blank face Like his own, but inside, a storm of dreams

And re-runs.

It felt good to sleep until he woke To silence in the morning, hands behind His head deep into the pillow. He watched The bare limbs shake in the wind outside. He worked all day to keep everything In its place and followed all his thoughts And all his secret voices unwinding From his head until the tape ran out.

He did not ignore necessities. He stood Among the gleaming aisles of food Reading the praises of cereal and beans. He studied that accumulating silence

Of his friends waiting in the line to pay. He loved his box grown overstuffed With mail. He loved the faces of the people He knew so well calling to him from his lawn Or pounding on his door. One day A van pulled up and three men With dark glasses and a key came in.

He'd been expecting them. They led him To the van. When he arrived someplace The rooms were bright and large. A woman Held his hand and looked into his eyes But did not persist in speaking. The men Who led him away did not speak at all. He loved the way everybody was being So good about it. They left him in a room With a table, a chair, and a bed.

He lived there for a long time.

They left him alone. Each night

The lights went out, but the silence

Glowed for him even in the dark. One night

He heard the walls humming

And when they stopped to breathe

He took a breath: a long, deep drawing in

Of air that didn't end. He felt ignored

All the way through, cold from the collapse

Of his presence in the room, and found

Himself outside the wall.

The guards saw him in the yard

But couldn't stop him,

The chain link fence dividing him

Into diamonds

Drifting off in all directions

In the cold night air.

—Jim Peterson

FAINT-LIGHT for Tristan

This is the way the day begins, the soft moaning of wind in the trees, dew on the grasses the faint-light lifting from behind the hills.

In the yard my son is swaying to his own song, in his swing on the air rising between the trunks of the ancient honey locusts, the last trees to leaf, in spring, in Ohio.

Whose bark rejoices in the lastness of things gray with the color of pain, knotted and curled, the death-mask as if all my dead had gathered here to watch, my son, who from this angle seems to rise back and disappear into the honey locusts, only to reappear moments later rising now on the other side like the dead, this the song of diminish and return.

And still the morning comes on and now I am swinging with my son between the faces of the dead and buried between the face of my own death, my diminishing rising here among the grasses, the sunlight and the honey locusts.

— Robert Kinsley

Notebook LEVEL ONE

1. Evaluate drafts of poems in your "Work in Progress" file that seem suited to the narrative mode. Revise them according to precepts learned in this chapter.

2. Select three ideas from your "Idea File" that suit the narrative mode. Before you write each poem, ask yourself basic questions about key elements —topic, theme, voice, viewpoint, etc. Review general rules governing each of those elements. Once you have determined your answers, align them by sketching an outline covering topic, theme, voice, viewpoint, moment and ending. With each poem, envision the work first . . . and then compose.

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