I read your poem “Town Watches Them Take Alfonso” this morning as I cradled a cup of coffee, caffeine infusing my bloodstream. My heart rate rose with each sip. Its bitter mouthwash browned my teeth, a consequence I live with because I like the ritual.
Some people practice morning writing but I start the day with a poem that is delivered to me from Poets.org which is how I found you. Afterwards, I sometimes write a poem inspired by lines read or sometimes I free-write based on the resulting brew in my head. Occasionally I read the daily poem aloud in the car as my husband drives me to work tunneling through the darkest winter months with high beams of beautiful words.
But this morning I was alone with my tiny perfect dog in my lap, coffee in one hand, Smartphone in the other, words glowing on the screen, a small fire warming the room. Was it the caffeine that made my throat flutter or these words:
What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.
You could have said “the body remembers”. Instead you gave me an image so clear I knew the words would stay with me forever in the same way that words we don’t say stick in our craw. You didn’t say “Words unspoken choke us” – which they do – keeping us from speaking as though they’re too big and too pointed to swallow, impossible to digest. No, they stay there in our nostrils, a scent memory where every inhalation is a reminder. Like the scent of a freshly struck match and its blast of sulfur reminds me of my mother and her mouth stuffed with a cigarette, her unspoken words scorched, silencing her.
Your poem is about cowards not speaking up, about bystanders watching and doing nothing. But I also think how silence is a form of abandonment. How my mother was abandoned by friends and family for the shame of being married to an alcoholic, denied friendship, denied kind words, words of love. How my father excoriated her and me daily for minor infractions – a dinner too salty, the wrong radio station playing. How she retreated into silence. I think of the word “no”, tucked tight in a pocket inside a clenched fist, packed away in a suitcase. I think of the word “no” burning in my nose like sulfur.
Finally, you knock me down with your last phrase “…Our silence stands up for us.” Silence says it all by saying nothing. Oh, god, how this line makes me want to shout and knock down everything around me with sound, the way my 3 year old daughter used to do when angry, her tantrums a symptom of a hurt stuck deep inside. She needed attention and her voice was her weapon and her friend. We heard her. Sound led her to help. Sound healed her.
Your poem rattled me, Ilya. The dog in my lap felt it, too, as I uncrossed my legs and planted my feet on the floor to steady myself. On the coffee table, the lit candle flames tilted. The budgie woke up and sang.
Mostly, I want to thank you for your poem. I didn’t want to not say it.