Some other breathers in the starry night, / Living their days beyond all others’ hearing.
Pat Riviere-Seel has just finished her first day as Poet-in-Residence and the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro. Tours, meetings, crowds, getting lost, getting found – her mind is awhirl. She’s finally found a few minutes to unpack and now she returns to the Zoo after closing.
You’ve visited zoos . . . how many times? Right now you can visualize your favorite animals: the lion invariably asleep, only the tip of its tail atwitch; giraffe curling that improbable tongue around its leafy dinner; monkeys teasing, chasing, swatting each other like sixth-graders on the playground. And then there are the smells: “Dad, do we have to go in the elephant house?” But what about the sounds? Do you remember any animal sounds other than toddlers crying for the ice cream they’ve dropped, mom’s calling for their young’uns to stick close and don’t get lost?
I wonder at the silence that Pat is discovering right now. Have strange calls begun to rise from the aviary as birds seek their roosts? Can she detect the crunch as oryx and kudu finish the day’s last mouthful? After the crowds have disappeared, is that when elephants trumpet and lions roar?
The silent are not those who make no noise. The silent are those we fail to hear.
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Song for the Silent
Down here the mule leans in the traces,
The plow swims through the loam,
And men at dusk turn quiet faces
To chimney smoke and home.
The roof is touched, then, by the first star’s finger,
A lamp stands in the wall;
Inside the house, slow sparse words linger,
Slow shadows rise and fall.
Out where the tracery of trees is cool
The plow leans toward the shed
In whose black cave the mule
Lies on his rustling bed.
Deep dark and silence come,
The mule no longer stirs,
the house, the darkened room
Seem filled with whisperers:
No sound but quiet breathing,
No light but from the star,
Whose beams through starlight and dark forests weaving
Form webs to where there are
Some other breathers lost in woods and clearing,
Some other breathers in the starry night,
Living their days beyond all others’ hearing,
Beyond all others’ sight.
But not beyond the web that holds them
To plow, to mule, to star,
And with light, lovely majesty enfolds them
And all the earth’s silent breathers, lone and far;
Breathers and brothers in the world’s dark reaches,
Brothers at peace within the web of light,
Free of the day and the ill day teaches,
At rest now in the silver of the night.
The manikins of state who scheme astutely
To blot each other’s names from history’s page
Forget that here in lonely cabins mutely
Men watch the feuds they wage.
But when through roads by ghosts of soldiers haunted
The crippled boys come back to mule and star,
If they shall miss the brotherhood they wanted
Our leaders may learn who the silent are.
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Written in the 1940′s, the final stanza of this poem could equally well describe this current decade, this very day. So many voices that we fail to hear, voices of creatures both human and other. Will our leaders learn who the silent are?
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James Boyd (1988-1944), novelist and poet, was a North Carolina literary luminary. After World War I he and his wife moved to Southern Pines and for the next quarter century stimulated and promoted literary arts in the South, their influence spreading throughout the country. Boyd wrote five historical novels set in North Carolina, revitalized The Southern Pines Pilot as its editor and publisher, and with WWII approaching organized The Free Company of Players, which produced a radio drama around such themes as freedom of speech, the right of assembly, racial equality, and the right to vote. His collection Eighteen Poems was published the year after his death.
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Read Pat’s artist’s statement and bio.
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