footnotes of a hammock



and what about this phrase ‘the silence
of the world’, where does it come from did
you borrow it from another poet did something
hum it in your ear like an attic
mystery in the middle of a heatwave afternoon
when the air torments you with its fiery
breath and you could lose your temper
but something gives you one last chance
the phrase ‘the silence of the world’ stills
you like the breeze of a hammock slow
and quiet, a cool white feather across
your sweaty neck, or the fluff of a dandelion
floating past an orifice or two


you stand in the long driveway of your father’s home. the texture of everything is amplified yet the air is full of silence. the greenness of the hedge is silent. you don’t know why you are there standing looking up at the sunroom window. you didn’t expect to see two girls standing in that room looking down at you. your impulse is to call for help but you have no way of doing so. without leaving the property. are they petty thieves. where is he, your father. the white bricks of the side of the house glare at you like a stunning shadow. ‘the silence of the world’ offers no sanctuary for your incipient screams. this putative talisman of language has let you down. you have been jilted.

next night you dream again. you are in the graveyard of your father’s garden. all the plants the flowers the trees bushes have gone. decades of nurturing just vanished. the soil is a bleached, messy brown. dunner than you would ever have imagined. as if there had been a nuclear winter. some unexpected chemical warfare. where are the giant pine trees that loomed over all like deep green sphinxes. here comes that lovely phrase ‘the silence of the world’. so unlovely now.


you’re walking along the street
in fairy meadow, the faux heritage
housing estates gleam like
cardboard cutouts, the mountain in
the distance sits in a trance
like someone who’s thrown her spectacles
away, humming a pastiche of old pop
songs – a voice behind your left
ear whispers ‘the silence of the world’
like puck on his way to the bottle shop
which is where you’re heading, and
then you see it in giant letters at
the traffic lights – ‘the triple cheeseburger
is back’ – where have all the dairies
gone – the roar of the traffic slices
through the fields of fairy meadow
like a holy war


‘the silence of the world’ sits
in your ear like a pocket
of sea water trapped there
after a long swim, language
is not so much a virus as
a pirate, no reassurances,
verities, no clark kent
in the phone booth, ready
to rip open his shirt and rescue
language make it believable, safe
as houses, sure as trust, there
are no phone booths big enough
and these days clark lies
dozing in the hammock enjoying
his redundancy payout, eno’s
‘music for airports’ on the walkman,
quietly rolling a budweiser across
his palms like a globe of
an ancient world, underneath
him cerberus dreams of a bratwurst
burger nothing will prick up his
ears – ‘the silence of the world’ –
all the mysteries have fled
from eleusis so many busloads

from kept busy (River Road Press, 2008), joanne burns 2008, used by permission of the author and River Road Press

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