Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sounds of Silence

In 1967--I'm pretty sure of the year--I was out hunting pheasants with my older brother Mike and my father.  "Hunting" is the right word--not "getting" any. It would have been this time of year: not a lot of snow on the ground, the landscape a muted severity of grays, tans and browns.  A low angle sun that seems to call to the inner depths of things.  One of my favorite times of the year.

If you've hunted pheasants, you know that the two actions you take are walking and being quiet.  We walked cornfields, barely used railroad tracks, sloughs, edges of woods.  I can't remember if we ever saw any birds that day. I know that we didn't shoot any.

It was cold that day, and one of the joys of that day was getting back into the warm car and driving to the next stop.  There was a new song that really grabbed me, as I sat in the back seat.  It spoke to the cold day, and also to where I was in my relation to my family at that age:  It was haunting, melancholic, beautifully sung, and also contained words that challenged how we looked at the world: "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls..."

I think maybe "The Sound of Silence" was the first song I fell in love with.  "Hello, darkness, my old friend..."   "In restless dreams I walked alone..."  I felt that, finally, someone was singing to my 14-year old soul. I didn't know where I fit into the family.  I was sad, in a time when boys--especially boys who played football, did Boy Scouts and hunted--didn't show that sadness.  I remember leaning back all of my 14-year old self into the back seat and thinking something like "I want to keep hearing this song forever".  There was something like joy and sorrow wrapped together in my hearing of it.

Except maybe I wasn't 14. The wonder--and curse--of on-line access is that I can just look up and see that "The Sound of Silence" was released in 1965.  Who knows how long it took to get to the top of the play list at KAUS 1480 in Austin, Minnesota.  But it probably didn't take two years. So maybe I was 12 or 13.  And maybe it doesn't matter, because as I continue to discover myself, who I am now at 64 (that I can confirm), who I was, and who I will be, I can give thanks for the beauty, the pathos and the call of that song. And so many others.

This is a poem I wrote over 30 years ago. I think that 12 or 13 or 14 year old boy is in there.


For Thomas Merton

A boy raises a match to twin candles,
Chanting baseball scores behind his prayers.
Bread and wine are ground into the stone,
The water is drawn, knife whetted,
Colors kissed and draped over shoulders.
The priest steps slowly to the altar,
Holding his years like stones coughed up by the sea.
He opens the book, lets the words slap his face,
Turns reddened to us, and weeps history.
It is a moment to say yes to failure.

The candles burn thick with darkness,
The music dances in the flames of a thousand circles.
Now the host is raised up to the beaks of night,
Now the words are shouted from the cross:
“This is my Body!” “This is my Blood!”
Walk now to the River, with hands open to receive the promise.
Like a tooth picked off a playground after a fight,
You put it in your pocket, wish on it,
Watch it grow into some terrible friend,
Some new and utterly lonely beast.


Be justice. Be beauty.  Be thanksgiving.


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