Silence is the absence of sound. That is where we start. Then we hear what’s left when a bow lifts from its string, the reverberation humming across window glass and skimming over curved iron rails. Even after it dissipates, sound remains. We cross a bridge from memory to the note that arrives next, if any. This is not a certainty.
The lift carries us. The resonance in our own blood rides over when the bow releases it from its string. The arm lifting belongs to the song. Muscles move the arm. Breath fuels muscle. Pulse syncopates with breath.
Player, instrument, audience, the hollow belly of night. Nothing is silent. Inside the ear, a river rushes. Even in the dark, even alone, we sleep on its roaring banks.
If sound never leaves us, then how is it we know silence? Does it hide in the pause between actions? A whole note for the eye, maybe. It holds still so we can land, steady the needle, ready ourselves to begin again.
Dim the lights, burn a single flame on a tarred wick. Set a place and eat a meal while dusk creeps in. Music plays, a guitar, a voice. Lyric. Hear it or not. A tiny blaze swaying, a copper Salome casts her shadow across walls. Such silent walls. Who knows what treachery she has in mind? What mayhem waits in that unexamined crevice just outside our line of sight?
We need to pretend we are safe.
Here we make believe silence: A seat in a wooden chair at the head of a wooden table. A plate of greens and a glass of water, and yes, candlelight. Its warm oil sheen. A chord. An evening. One long fragment of time — moment, minute, year, name it what you will, does it matter? — then another.
Skin like petals. It tears open with barely a motion. Just below this choreography of quiet, the nibble and chitter of every unanswered question. Every mistake. The conversation that should have happened running a three-legged race with the one that did.
We turn eyes, ears, face both away and towards. Through hidden pipes, water churns and clunks. Painted drywall makes a perfect plane, a thin but welcome cloaking of a cacophony we’d rather disregard. Outside, engines cough. They surge. They vie for first arrival, forever closing the distance. In the corners spiders spin their egg sacs, spiders with legs finer than the hair from your grandmother’s head (may she rest in peace) and the urgency of their work outpaces anything our species creates.
We would not want to hear their thoughts, of course. Even if we could make sense of spider tongue, the noise would deafen. Their force of will, complete and unremitting, would plaster the canvas of our minds with images of an arachnid apocalypse. We cannot imagine such singularity of purpose. We have grown too accustomed to variety. To drift. To long stretches of unconcern about the quantity and fertility of our young.
Wouldn’t they be as horrified by our relentless chatter? As baffled by the clamor?
Here at the wooden table, we prune. It’s how we learn to sense without imploding from the tempest of stimuli. We do the same as our fellow inhabitants of the planet, although with far less coherence and grace. We’re all planted in noise. It’s up to us to cut away. To determine the shape of our silence.
Image: Suzie Seitz King, Peaceful Garden