“The Ringing of Silence” by Wally Swist

Wally Swist


They are not in any hurry, there are fewer expectations.
What is different this time is their stillness,

but not what is delicious about their familiarity.
They learn through the practice of separation

how to become more tender.
After she takes off her dress, she asks him

for one of his shirts, and he decides on the green corduroy.
She chooses to wear it unbuttoned, all night.

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019


Wally Swist: “‘The Ringing of Silence’ was initially written at Fort Juniper, the Robert Francis Homestead Cottage, where I had a writing residency in 2003–2005. The poem was revised much over the years. I say ‘revised much’ because I kept on trying to hone the imagery and the rhythms. I’d need to relay that certainly my reading the love poems of Yehuda Amichai, whom I met, and those of Kenneth Patchen (especially the memorably resonant ‘23nd Street Runs into Heaven’) were what most likely laid the groundwork for the composition of this poem. However, in making the poem my own, I needed to address the subject of the poem, the woman who was, and still is, the love of my life. Our relationship morphed over a period of seventeen years from knowing at first sight, for both of us, I think, that the other was the one, but we went from lovers and friends to just friends to most recently lovers, significant others, and awakened human beings. I just revised this poem again in November 2018. The poem, as well as us, and most importantly us, have evolved over the years; my time crafting the poem actually parallels our crafting our relationship with each other, as well as ourselves. Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet, a book that was compiled years after his death, that to write ten good lines towards the end of one’s life was worth all the years leading up to such an accomplishment. I have written only an eight line poem in ‘The Ringing of Silence,’ but I have come to know firsthand what Rilke wrote and what I originally read when I was a young man, 45 years ago. What is even more of an accomplishment, in human terms, is that I am in a relationship with the woman in the poem in my life in stronger and deeper ways than ever before and that ‘The Ringing of Silence’ is one of the poems that is a tribute to our growth as a couple.” (web)

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