September 01, 2006

Poem about the past


We've learned to listen, haven't we,
to sounds of silence in subway graffiti,
in a Zen hand clapping,
and spray-painted on the railway trestle
over the Hartford Turnpike, in names
we’ve seen a hundred times
without hearing,
which according to physicists
doesn't matter: a tree falls in the forest
and bodies vibrate -- leaves,
loam, the rush of air filling the space
left behind: sound.

All sound is music sometimes,
to someone, somewhere,
and surely to say the hills are alive with it
is no metaphor,
though much of it we miss --
crickets’ ultrasonic love-talk, for instance;
the wing-friction “singing” we so love
being to them only sonic garbage.
Or the acoustical signature we can’t hear
that summons our cats and dogs
to the door when we’re still two blocks away.

Composer Charles Dodge once
used a computer and synthesizer to record
“the sun playing on the magnetic
field of the earth.” Angelic choir? Music
of the spheres? And what about
the California geneticist
who assigned each nucleotide
a musical value and chanted
the plainsong of our genes?

Near Jupiter, Voyager spaceships
detected musical chirps and whistles,
a tinkling of volcanic bells
from the moon, Io, while in Thailand,
a Buddhist monk proved once and for all
that music is not imaginary,
as if otherwise it might be only acousma --
dissonant, pathological, nonexistent,
the sound, essentially,
of a long. suffering silence...

Thirty-five years ago,
when words came between us,
my father stopped speaking to me,
his lockjaw shunning so brutal, so righteous,
those years I still endured the holidays
I detoured my requests for salt, the gravy,
to the next person down the table,
aware of the lightning-struck air,
the dangerous B flat thrum,
his silence telegraphing: All
visits cancelled. Stop.
Do not come home.
Stop. After this
I was so cold I
could no longer play
or make music.

The earth sings, yes,
but not necessarily for us
which is what mattered yesterday
on my half-mile last lap
when I heard a father bellow
at his small daughter, the caustic scald
pumped clear through a half-open
“Listen, young lady, when I say no,
I mean no. Do you hear me?”
And she, flaming up, scorched, “I hate you!
I hate you!” as if her utterance,
like the bottlenose dolphin’s,
were enough to stun, deafen, kill.

And what, finally,
of my own father’s silence?

Over the relatives’ gossip, from his end
of the Thanksgiving table
where we gathered together
as usual, came his blessings like winter roses --
velvety blooms for the rest of the family,
but only the thorns for me,
on my knees outside the family pale,
forever beyond the kingdom,
and the power.

*Since what I wrote about in this poem, we have completely reconciled, my father and I. There is no longer silence between us, but a lot of good healthy talk, many solid intellectual exchanges. I treasure each visit, which he tries to make once every two weeks. I know I missed him terribly all those years. I don't know if he ever missed me. I think he is just glad we are a full family of six again.

Posted by pamwagg at September 1, 2006 09:35 PM


Hi, Paula, Kate, and Donna Carolyn,
I want to thank you for your insightful and generous comments. I will use all of them as I think about my next blog entries. My heart also goes out to each one of you, for I know your struggles, different though they might be. You've all given me something of yourselves in writing here and writing to me personally, and I want to tell you I appreciated every word, as I appreciate them now. Thank you so very much.

Pam W

Posted by: Pamwagg at September 2, 2006 05:32 PM

You said that a recounting of your daily routine would bore all of your readers. It would not bore me. In fact, I think it would help to know the daily struggles of a fellow sufferer of sz. My heart reaches out to you when I read your paragraphs and your poems, and I wish I could do something positive and helpful for you. But all I can do is write a comment that I do indeed need your posts. They somehow make me feel it is okay, that I do not cease to be me, when I have hallucinations and delusions. Somehow I thought I must be existing only in hell at times and therefore dead. I struggle to choke down the Zyprexa against my wishes twice a day, so that my thoughts speed will be regulated, neither too fast nor too slow. Please keep blogging.

Posted by: Donna Carolyn at September 2, 2006 09:06 AM

Dear Pam,

I think most schizophrenics could appreciate the wonderful sound of silence and the even more wonderful sound of nature coming from the crickets,peepers, birds, animals, from the wind rustling the make me remember what I sometimes forget. I love nature, but I stay inside. I recently saw a bear and did a little awkward joyful dance inside my house. I was so happy that chance made me look out the window the moment she or he crossed the road in front of my house. The totem of the bear is very strong. And I just hope the bear survives and that they begin to thrive again despite human encroachment. The bear was silent but perhaps the birds were watching, waiting to make some aside amongst themselves.

Your father. As I read DIVIDED MINDS I thought it was so sad that your parents detached from you just when you needed them most. A few months after I became psychotic I called my father in Florida to tell him that voices were telling me that I was evil and that I was going to check into a local hospital psyche ward. The reason I didn't stay there for long was because the very next day my Dad was there ready to take care of me. He stayed for a month and then switched with my mother, who also stayed for a month. Of course in the ensuing years I had to take care of myself for the most part, but just having my parents embrace me, rather than reject me, I'm sure shortened the duration of my deluded/paranoid phase. I'm so glad to hear that you and your father are reconciled towards each other. I'm sure that helps to heal and strengthen you both.

Thanks for sharing the poem. It's excellent.

Kate :)

Posted by: Kate K. at September 2, 2006 01:53 AM

Dear Pammy,
After reading your poem twice,I believe that Paul Simon would love to read this poem and compare your version of the properties of both sound and silence(or are they the same?)with his own. I picture him reaching for his guitar in order to attempt creating sound and silence simultaneously and thanking you for providing him with the challenge of being your bridge over whatever water you so choose. I hear your silence quite well.

With admiration as stong as Paul's, Your Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at September 1, 2006 11:40 PM

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