What we are made of

There is a cave just outside of Flagstaff made from ancient lava flows. We went inside it to where the darkness was a presence, it walked with us like a Christ, our footsteps fell dead on its walls. We learned what space felt like, and drowning, and being crushed, and going blind and deaf. We made up words to push the feeling away, to goad it like mockingbirds fighting hawks. We called it creepy to its face. It stared back dispassionate.

In a bathroom I know there is a low thrumming that comes from the air ducts in the ceiling. It comforts me in the same way the smell of toilet-water calms my stomach, it is a sound so close to quiet, so close to the porcelain whiteness of the toilet, it pushes all other noise away. It is deafening quiet in its most real form, its most realizable form.

The eggs on the floor, broken. Not the eggs in their journey to the floor or from the farm or from the hen on the farm, in the cage, glowing under fluorescent lights, its neighbors pressed to its body, rotten-smelling, grotesque. Not the fateful meeting with the floor. Not the long wait in darkness for the fluorescent dawn, cacophonous with pain and smell. None of this: the sunlight on the kitchen tile, the refrigerator softly humming, the eggs on the floor. The yolks glistening.

I compose with music best. Under its meaninglessness I am able to hear the silence, a different meaninglessness, a somehow-deeper meaninglessness, the inverse of repeating a word until it is only sound. I can hear the taboo, the never-spoken, unacknowledged. I write to drown its sound, with the scratching of my pen.

Silence lies underneath us all in the same waythe Nile has a river underneath ten times as large(though this is an urban legend, apparently) I threw a party in my dream and went to the bathroom, down a long dark hallway. I began to leave and noticed the bathtub full of stuffed animals in a heap. I examined them each in turn: an elephant, a tiger, each backgrounded by white tile. A warthog sat at the top of the heap. It caught my eye, I stared, it slowly winked, sneering. I reached out my finger and poked it, like the Pillsbury Doughboy. It responded in kind, chuckling. I woke with a start, terrified. It had made no sound.

There are at least two kinds of silence, in the same way that there are at least two kinds of sadness. There is the silence of after, the staring, open-mouthed silence, the what-do-we-do-now silence. There is the silence of before, the still before rainfall, the just-woken-up.

There is, now I’m thinking about it, the silence of between: the waiting room after the heart attack, after the phone call, after the hurried drive, the fast walking down hospital hallways, the finding the room, my family, their faces the silence of after, the TV quietly playing Maurie, the silence underneath that; the waiting room before the doctor comes in, tells us what happened, the chances, before my parents drive down, their three long hours in the car, before we become the Hospital People for five days, camped-out, loud, cackling, crying, doing crosswords, watching her die.

The silence of wondering whether we could’ve known each other better.

The silence of the long trip we prefer to believe she’s gone on, which is really the silence of her absence.

The eggs on the floor, broken.

In other dreams, all I’ve watched all of my family dying. My father I remember best: he was on the wicker rocking chair on the porch, staring at the back yard, the evergreen trees in a magic triangle, their branches intertwined. We were all on the porch, and I heard like a far-away bell the moment of his death. I woke up crying, my throat closed with grief.

Leaving after the goodbye at the hotel, realizing I won’t be home until Christmas, that I’m on my own long trip, someone on the radio station I’m listening to in the car screws up transferring tapes, broadcasts dead air. The silence yawns like a chasm, lasting for years. The wind picks me up and carries me away, I see everything from a great height, I see the future. I’m waiting.