Coloratura On A Silence Chosen
From Many Expressive Systems

I did a year of reticence theory and learned
falling is noisier than flowing,
a waterfall is a stream changed to ovation,
silence is the voice of glacier blood,
the dark white that lives
between the lines. Rest ice.
The white bow on the coachman’s whip.
The velvet backing on the frame.


White noise is sonic silence.
That’s why I did a dissertation on applause.
My survey encouraged all beholders
in their reckoning frames
to inspect ovations
at their leisure and confirm
in which part of which emotion
the praise conserved in
such collisions took place.
We studied those who clapped
with hands held high
so all could see them fawn
and those who brooded,
sitting on their digits.


If you are silent about your pain they’ll kill you
and say you enjoyed it.

And they’ll kill you if you speak up.
Consider the stormborn applause for Stalin.

Acclaim has such momentum.
There’s a need for salvo stays.

The first to stop will be shot!
Unconsciousness begins

with white noise, a static roaring in the head.
If your hands burn afterwards,

it is militant quietude speaking.
At home in his dacha, Stalin had no carpets.

He wanted to hear the footsteps approaching.


When truth is replaced by silence, silence is a lie.
We are studying
the ways that solitude cures loneliness.
Students, don’t sit at such a distance. 
I want to hear your minds groaning
as the trees do on a bitter night.
I read something corrosive in your silence
that scares me stupid. Though fluency seems glib
as a babblebrook in spring.


We are exhuming silence considered for this moment
         to be made of earth.
The preferred method requires a toothless backhoe
         followed by small scrapes
till hush fragments appear: Because. my.
         Next we need a crew to pedestle
the remains. Brook. is. fluent.
         To dig a trench, show the edges
and sieve the ground
         for bits: I. know. ’tis. dry—
A difference in compaction signals a disturbance
         decades past. Because. my. Check the icicles
for lineation. Brook. is. silent. Long buried
         silence resembles rock shards with the power to cut
what’s solid or dense. It. is. the. Sea—
         When only the largest quiet is exposed
and moved the project’s called a symbolic lift.
         And. startled. at.  It means the quiet is
figuratively in a new place but literally split.
         Its. swelling.  It isn’t pale like a cow bone
exposed. I. try. to. flee.
         It’s dirt colored and hard to identify.
To. where. the. You have to put your tongue
         to it. Strong. assure. me. Silence will stick
because it’s porous. Is. “no. more. sea—“
         The tongue will stick to hush.


I have invented a new genre. That of silence.
Isaac Babel. O babblebook in spring.

When you cut the nice-nice
what oozes out?

Sugar foam, pastel curdle howls.
The ecopoet composing an ecologue

on global warming while
eating a hamburger.


I was meditating to the silence of a bell
at rest. After the carillon, this bell

kept sounding. This stilled bell
spoke to everything

around it there being
a constant rubbing

between its metal
and the elements. It

resonated with ambient
sounds and made a constant

low tolling. There was a constant
tamboura between

the bell and say the garden, 
a vibration vibration 

sensors could amplify.
Because the bell

is always ringing.
Its repose is silence-like

but it is not
silence. It is

ringing. It is rung
by your by

any presence.


A chirpy bird, a carpenter bee,
the roofers’ hammering, the gruffness
of the mower, the mild
crash of crockery and cupboards closing,
a droning jet, the scrape of mouse
and crepitus of keyboard clicks.
Why would silence exist?
There is nothing
in the nature of
things that requires it.


He always made an awkward bow.

The silence at the end

should be heard

as the sound of held applause.


Reticence must respect the limits of its user.
Begin with a typical brute
algorithm that lists, categorizes, ticks off,
eliminates, then represses predilections.
Try the procedures by which ordinary people go about 
being modestly rational. Are you a leaper or a plodder?
Do you thirst for redundancy or newness?
If the choice yields the full latitude of a radiant instance
you have it made. There’s something
about a closed universe where your quietude is
waiting. That’s what I was given
to believe. Change the soul and see
how strategies change to meet it. Then change the rain.
Nobody, not even the truth, has such slant hands.
Please slap me if I get too Zen.
Sir, they said, M’am, your silence is waiting for you.
To be praised by it was to be tasered by honey.



[Italicized lines are quoted from Zora Neale Hurston, Yevgeny Yevtushenko,
Emily Dickinson, and Isaac Babel.]





Doha Pillow Words

The invitation arrived in the mist
and I didn’t know how to say no.
I’d had no no practice and I was afraid
my no might be abrasive.
I needed a decorative negation.
      Just say I have to go pull my groceries home on a sleigh.
I needed a pillow word, a concept from Japanese poetics:
a phrase that is a set piece without much meaning,
which also happens in ancient Greek. The wine-dark sea.
      Say I have to go out into the fields of learning,
      I have to look into Chapman’s Homer.
Pillow words are a form of silence. Time has gutted them.
They’re linguistic fossils.  Lace trimmed yawns.
      Say I have to look for a word
      crappily adapted to my own catastrophe.
They’re figures of speech that always cushion certain nouns.
      Say I have to consider why “Autumn mountains”
      always modifies “moving colors.”
Moving means touching, colors that can make you cry.
Ornament can be important.
      Say I have to think why Mina no wata,
      marsh snail guts, always modifies darkness. 
As linguistic sizing, pillow words
are sometimes left untranslated.
      Say I have to go untranslate some
      pre-fabs, ready-mades. White noise.
Under the militant screws of too much meaning,
I have to whisper shh.
Originality can be draining. Please give it a rest.
      Say I’ve reconsidered my wine-dark cognition project
      and I’m going to fill my fill with cheap bubbly instead.
The way dweebish poser prats trying to be cool
spangle their language with right? a tic
that fishes for agreement but meets resistance
from listeners thinking wrong. Like like, a word used with abandon
where there’s no comparison, like
you know, a phrase assuming empathy where none exists.
      Say I have to you know go feed my like peace foundry, right?
When you’re heavy-headed, when you need to secede,
there is this rest ice. A cushion word
placed beneath a suffering
can comfort. Some contain little songs.
In the treetop. When the wind blows.
      Say I have to go listen to ambient chill music.
      It comes with lullaby instructions.
“Not fast, with tender expression.” The cradle will fall and –
darkness darkness, be my pillow.
      Say I have to tie a white bow on the coachman’s whip.
Is that a soporific drink – like a white zombie?
Or the one who carries a coffin with him everywhere?
The one who looks liturgical. With jangling golden wings.
      Say I have to consider the radiance.
Habits develop a dynamism of their own, a centrifugal force,
and the edge where everything happens is undermined.
      Say I have to go listen to the pitter-patter
      of snowflakes in the Arctic desert.
I was in the yes habit, a word that locked me in the mist of this
barren rayon murmurous damask unbelustered slush.
Where I was nothing more than sullied colorwheel putty,
less and less. Because yes is docile, so tailwagging
a word. While no is a devouring host, the hex-
agonal blast of a stop sign in the rush.
      Just say I have to go theorize semiotic scroll notation,
      the emergence of maize culture film footage, 
      and snorkel-aided computation.
      I have to go worship ground-figure reversals,
      find the camphorwood box
      where Millicent Todd Bingham stored Dickinson’s papers,
      land a kissable tomboy sinecure
      and make nonnegotiable demands.
But first I have to go pull my groceries home on a sleigh.
I have to research the word no. Its very existence troubles.
After I said it I felt the best I’d ever felt
while feeling bad. When I glanced out the window
the wind was listening. And the dawn was sampling.





Summoning A Freshening

Firstness, be merciful
to animals raised in the dark.
Time’s minions.  As I am

gimpy. Time’s chattel. Lumpen.
As a bullet travels faster than its sound,
let compassion travel.

Though hierarchy be hardwired, dismantle it.
Undo otherness. I pray you.
And by praying you, I create you.


Let the next be restful as the velvet
Backing on a picture frame.
After major sparking, matte.

Let art spin a likeness for loneliness.
Let it be company. With stuff in it.
Let it wreck the wrecking ball.

Unleash the living
from my haunted dead.


As color is sifted through a prism,
soul is strained through world.

The quality of mercy falls
like small caliber raindrops
on the place below: the slaughter-
house between the farm-to-table.
The classic kitten studies.

Time == was it == mind == was it ==
marbled me with knowledge.
Not like a steak that’s tragic flesh.
More embossed end paper.

Because knowing without going
through the suffering you know
is a mortal form of ornament,
the fizz of shape.


Sidereal force, bestow mercy
on the innocent. Nudge compassion
please toward them.
As plates under an ocean can
shove continents, vast array, you can. 


Just past midnight on December 31st
I’m waiting for the other ball to drop.

But everything happens only once
when time’s the boss.

The difference between time and music
is music can repeat. Dissonance seizes

our attention: doors slamming, earth moving
machines. As it pleases time

to wipe clean everything
we’ve touched,

of the inexpressible one
cannot say too much.


I ask for absolution though I am as-is:
damaged, has-been, dissed. I was

guided by duty in the great things
and the small. There was this self-

flagellating map, this grind
of a cartographer being

flogged inside my head.
I traveled by diligence.

Give me my walking papers.
As long as I’m alive I’ll institute myself

and give thanks each time I rise. 


I don’t ask for trophy travel.
          Alarums and excursions
tire me. Sailing to Byzantium
in search of spicier jewels I might fail
to find my present wealth.
When explorers searching for Cathay
chanced upon this continent
          they tried to bribe or slash
a passage through or navigate around it,
thinking it an obstacle, not thinking
how immense == how home it was
          to others there before.
          Before that thought
takes flight let me be on it. 
          Though I am tardy,
          ailing, affronted, raw,
let me recognize not colonize
the gift that bright exalts me now.


[Alice Fulton's latest poetry book is Barely Composed (W.W. Norton, 2015.) Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Review, Poetry,and many other magazines. The Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University, she lives in Ithaca, NY.]

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