Box of Silence: poetry

By Michael Hettich

The howling pretends to bring on winter

            but the howling was there all along.

                        —Laura Kasischke

Their father, an inventor, built a massive box of silence
he claimed was an environmentally friendly house
that could live in slow time, like a tree or a river,
or as long as human culture, without electricity or water
that didn’t come free from the rain and sun,

and he lived there for years with his wife and children
who had no idea they were living in silence,
just that they never needed to talk
when they were at home. They understood each other there.
And soon enough the father had invented smaller boxes

of silence they could carry like tents
when they went on vacation, and he learned to build boxes
of silence with wheels, that moved so fast
they might as well have been invisible, like air
that didn’t make a sound even when it mimicked wind

and blew things to smithereens. And soon enough the daughter,
nubile and curious, refused to come home
for fear of disappearing, and the wife started crying
silently instead of attempting to gesture
the urgencies she felt, at least while she was home

with her husband, who danced, wild eyed and imperturbable,
through the silent house he’d made larger through the years,
room by room, until it was a mansion
filled with the inventions that hadn’t been successful:
waterfalls powered by the dreams we forget
every night, that can run our computers but flood

our bedrooms and might even cause us to drown
in our sleep, or guitars that replace our skeletons
so touching ourselves or each other makes music—
except that the mansion was silent, so the music
had to be imagined, which was satisfying only

for the inventor. Other rooms were filled
with devices for preserving memories like specimens
in jars, or moments of happiness trapped
in flashes that burned our eyes like flash bulbs
and would make anyone eventually blind,
and rooms full of sun glasses so dark they blinded us

in another way, and hearing aids that looked like
tattoos and made everything, even silence, sing
Help me! Help me! And what could we do
but respond by calling We’re coming! We’ll save you!

which was the lie that ensnared us.

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