“Moments of Silence” by Joanna Lee

Joanna Lee


The night Paris went dark,
the power died here on whole blocks east of the city.

For twenty-some seconds, there was no hum
of the refrigerator, no news on the TV,
no light pooling in the windows.
For hours afterward, the neighborhood kept itself quiet:
few passing trucks; no conversations
from lonely dog-walkers and lanky men in cigarettes;
no hurried squeaking of strollers and cellphone-on-cheek;
no pulse of a car radio; no sirens.

Even the wind had given in, abandoning
the single-paned windows to sigh
against their sills, the dry leaves
scrabbling away at asphalt to the cobblestone
beneath, then guttering into nothingness.
Like the night was a gallows-tree
under a heavy creosote blanket, and we kept hid,
listening with our noses.

Like when we were children, taught
to fear the dark, and those who crouched waiting
in corners, unseen, to do us harm.
It is a lesson we learn and un-learn these long nights:
to step unbowed and beating from the circle of the streetlamp
or the café window or the concert hall,
our hearts wild acetylene torches
that blink their lights as if to say I dare.

Hours afterward, the power returned,
the last newscast over, chopper blades grumble
above the house, then head west
toward the hospital rooftop and the waiting trauma bay.
A train mourns slow and rhythmic, trundling coal.
There are still no sirens.

Poets Respond
November 15, 2015

[download audio]


Joanna Lee: “I was struck, as I’m sure many across the globe were, with Friday night’s Paris attacks, feeling a need to process, to respond before heading to bed last night. The East End of Richmond, Virginia, where I live, is rightly or wrongly often stigmatized by violence and racial/socioeconomic disparity. (As a poet-friend of mine, Joshua Poteat, put it, ‘It is always postwar here.’) The eerie silence that clung to the streets that night sounded like a breath being held—of solidarity, maybe, or of wondering where the next blow would fall.” (website)

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