Sotto Voce

To strip away this incessant chatter,
yes, but what lies underneath it?

Death, of course, or our fear of death.
Which is why we talk so much,

bury our heads in books, turn forests
into pages and pages into mirrors

in which we see ourselves appear
and disappear. When I look up

from the story I've been reading
about the Jews in Nazi Germany

and the silence that closed their
mouths forever, I see a girl outside

the cafe smiling in at her father
who smiles back but cannot hear her.

Long Enough

You would have thought it foolish to speak to the dead,

but I have lived two decades longer now than you

and all this time I have carried you in my head

so I think I have the right to question what you said,

dear teacher. My religious upbringing’s residue,

you would have thought it foolish. To speak to the dead,

however, is sometimes necessary, especially haunted

by all the things I know you hoped I’d do

with all this time that I have carried you in my head.

In a dream last night I followed where you led



Snow clouds shadow the bay, on the ice the odd fallen gull.
I try to keep my friend from dying by remembering
his childhood of praise to God, who needs us all. Würzburg:
the grownups are inside saying prayers for the dead,
the children are sent out to play — their laughter
more sacred than prayer. After dark his father
blesses and kisses him Güttenacht. He wakes
to go to school with children who stayed behind
and were murdered before promotion.

Quaker Meeting, The Sixties

Seeing my friend’s son in his broad-brimmed hat
and suspenders, I think of the Quakers
who lectured us on nonviolent social action
every week when I was a child. In the classrooms
we listened to those who would not take up arms,
who objected, who had accepted alternative
service in distant work camps and showed
slides of hospitals they helped to build.
On Wednesdays, in Meeting for Worship,
when someone rose to speak,
all the energy in the room
flew inside her mouth, empowering her to tell

Yom Kippur, Taos, New Mexico

I’ve expanded like the swollen door in summer
to fit my own dimension. Your loneliness

is a letter I read and put away, a daily reminder
in the cry of the magpie that I am

still capable of inflicting pain
at this distance.

Like a painting, our talk is dense with description,
half-truths, landscapes, phrases layered

with a patina over time. When she came into my life
I didn’t hesitate.