The Silence of the Stars, by David Wagoner

The Silence of the Stars


When Laurens van der Post one night

In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen

He couldn’t hear the stars

Singing, they didn’t believe him. They looked at him,

Half-smiling. They examined his face

To see whether he was joking

Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men

Who plant nothing, who have almost

Nothing to hunt, who live

On almost nothing, and with no one

But themselves, led him away

From the crackling thorn-scrub fire

And stood with him under the night sky

And listened. One of them whispered,

Do you not hear them now?

And van der Post listened, not wanting

To disbelieve, but had to answer,

No. They walked him slowly

Like a sick man to the small dim

Circle of firelight and told him

They were terribly sorry,

And he felt even sorrier

For himself and blamed his ancestors

For their strange loss of hearing,

Which was his loss now. On some clear nights

When nearby houses have turned off their visions,

When the traffic dwindles, when through streets

Are between sirens and the jets overhead

Are between crossings, when the wind

Is hanging fire in the fir trees,

And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove

Between calls is regarding his own darkness,

I look at the stars again as I first did

To school myself in the names of constellations

And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,

I can still hear what I thought

At the edge of silence where the inside jokes

Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,

The C above high C of my inner ear, myself

Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:

My fair share of the music of the spheres

And clusters of ripening stars,

Of the songs from the throats of the old gods

Still tending even tone-deaf creatures

Through their exiles in the desert.


–David Wagoner


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