for Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow
The engines of our kind rumble on the road,
groan in the sky, snarl against wood and grass.
Our broadcast messages permeate the air.
The mind's radio never signs off.
Still, the twenty of us who've gathered on a hillside farm
above the Mad River of Vermont hold our tongues
from ten at night until ten each morning,
listening for voices not our own.
This morning, sure enough, in our hush we hear frogs
grunt beside the pond, lambs bleat and crickets ring
from the pasture, crows guffaw from the spires
of pines, swallows carve the air in chattering curves,
and cottonwood leaves rattle in the least wind.
The wind shakes prayer flags along the garden fence,
flaps clothes on the line, sizzles in the tall grass.
Fog rises from the river, and surly clouds coast our way
over a rim of mountains to the south. Following our breath,
we pace toward breakfast in the barn, climb the wagon ramp,
scuff our bare feet against boards worn smooth by wheels
and hooves. From below, the cluck of hens, the moan
of a dog, the rasp of a file sharpening a blade.
As we eat cereal and yogurt and scones from maple bowls,
our spoons clattering against the wood, keeping our peace,
rain begins drumming on the barn's metal roof.
Here is a voice I could listen to forever, a tongue that wags
only when it chooses. The monologue in my head quiets down.
My breath mingles with the wind, my pulse with the rain.
All of us who sit at the long table draw in and let go the same air,
along with chickens, ravens, butterflies, purple coneflowers,
and the white birches gleaming from rock piles on the ridge.
The food I swallow was grown in this valley. I have grasped
some of the hands that planted it, and the hands that cooked it.
Filled, I carry my bowl outside to wash it in the rain.
I take a long drink from the spring that fills the pond,
whose black surface ripples like the skin of a horse
shooing flies. Water pours in every moment from the spring,
pours out through a pipe, murmuring as it comes and goes.
And so, even though its molecules constantly change, the pond
is constantly replenished, like my own body, like yours,
like all bodies that drink and eat and breathe.
Having heard these voices, having seen the pond shimmering
brimful of clear water, having opened the gates of perception,
when the time comes this morning for us to break
silence, we might find words to speak our love of the Earth.
This poem was contributed to Spirituality & Practice for the anniversary of 9/11. Scott Russell Sanders is a professor of English and one of our Living Spiritual Teachers.