POEMS BY JUDITH SEARLE FROM: "IN THE TEETH OF TIME"
there are those that hear
the sounds of music
and those that hear
IN THE TEETH OF TIME
Music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
--T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages"
The violinist is dying, the pianist is dying, all of us
in this high-ceilinged room on our chairs are dying.
The roses in the sunlight streaming through the windows
are dying, though their scent is strong.
Outside a dog howls as the violin pours forth
its intricate filigree, its amazing leaps and moans.
Poor howling dog, howling for all of us sitting here
on this Sunday afternoon in the teeth of time.
We are forever brothers and sisters,
held together in this womb, birthed
through the throes of the music into the sunlight.
We howl with pain and joy.
This musk of mortality mixes with the fragrance of the roses.
The moans and sobs of the violin are indistinguishable
from the blood leaping in our veins on this
Sunday afternoon in the kingdom of forever.
The cutting edge of time is essential to the ecstasy.
The performers are our high priests, flinging themselves
into the silence to bring back treasures for the tribe,
which we devour in this ritual communion.
We ride their backs as if on dolphins,
soaring into the sunlight scattering diamonds,
plunging through the depths, lungs bursting,
our exuberance edged with panic.
In this moment of alchemy, discipline is inseparable from freedom,
fierceness from tenderness, focus from abandonment.
The music is a lover with a hundred hands, and we are reeling
with the sudden touch of sound after a moment of silence.
Worth it to be mortal on a day like this,
with the sunlight, the roses,
the music rising to heaven, swooping back
to earth, our vehicle to eternity.
This thing I want to say,
I can find no words to say it,
to cleanly pin it down.
But let me start with the silences.
It has something to do with silences:
the silences in music without which
no music exists,
the silence which contains the music
and is contained by it,
yin to the notes' yang.
Or those moments of silence between people,
enemies of the word-oiled social machine,
moments bursting with what
can't be spoken, won't be spoken.
(If it could, would the universe fly apart?)
Yes, there may be a clue in the silences.
Or--to say (or not say) it another way--
in the incidents and accidents
of which we forge our identities:
this peculiar blue of eye,
that distinctive nose,
the genetic accident of
thus-and-such male or female body.
Or the happenstance of incidents
treasured up in memory
and called our past,
of which we make poems and psychoanalysis.
This same collection
of neural traces in the brain
leads us to say we know another person,
hoarding in common
different memories of the same incidents,
these incidents as much accidents
as the blue eyes and the distinctive nose.
Memory being a great editor,
it edits out the silences,
keeping only the words, rearranged neatly
for the sake of harmony with other memories.
Thus the past becomes comfortable, orderly,
a refuge from this dangerous, subversive moment.
If you and I knew each other before,
in other incarnations,
as some sensitives say we did,
is it any wonder we cannot remember,
having blinkered our eyes with these images
of what we call reality:
my having such-and-such breasts
and the rest of the female apparatus,
you with your pride of male equipment,
and yes, this passion and poetry
and sense of shared events.
What do I mean when I say
I know you?
When I say to someone
He knows me?
Do I, seeing a few puffs of smoke
rising from a crevice,
know the fire raging
in an underground cavern?
Can you drink the water
of the deep springs
that bend your dowsing stick
as you walk on granite?
Physicists in their quantum universes
talk of "worm holes" linking
one stratum of existence with another:
simultaneous multiple versions of you and me
scurrying back and forth
like mice in tunnels of Swiss cheese,
nibbling at past and future,
memories and fantasies.
How often do we share a universe?
An instant here and there--
not in the obvious places one would think,
like love, but strangely, fleetingly
in those moments when we look for sharing least:
moments seen slantwise out of the corner of the eye,
dissolving when looked at too directly.
The separations perhaps, the silences.
No, I have not managed to say
this thing I want to say.
But the truth is there somewhere
in the silences.
It is May again, my darling, nearing
the anniversary of the day you left your body.
The other night in a dream you said to me,
"I've lost my little radio." I know the one --
still in the top drawer of our bedside table,
but lost to you along with your body
and my body. The living and the dead
are on different frequencies, it seems.
I trust you hear me when I speak to you now,
despite the silence that follows my words.
There is a voice I hear sometimes
when I am missing you most intensely.
It says, "Look around you."
During the last years, when I would go to New York
alone, you would ask me to visit
certain art exhibitions for you. It seemed
that you could suck up the experience
directly from my consciousness
by the sheer force of your longing.
Why did I not see before your departure
that the deepest bond between us
was our shared passion for beauty?
I still seek on my walks each day
one new beautiful thing to share with your spirit:
forsythia spraying its yellow jets against a black rock,
a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering in the air,
the gaiety of wind-whipped daffodils,
sunlight on the leaves of a Japanese maple,
the spiral structure of a calla lily,
an avenue of flowering jacarandas,
the magenta velvet spikes of Mexican sage flowers,
the fragile glory of a bearded iris.
Our white orchid plant"a gift for your ninetieth birthday"
now has thirty-one blossoms.