In New York, sidewalks were so crowded it was easier
to walk in the street, and three stories up
from all the elbows and breath, always
the same city dream: in the back
of my cramped apartment, a door
I’d somehow not seen. I’d press my ear to it
and hear the cavernous echo
of air arcing through hidden, innumerable rooms,
rooms I owned but had never entered.
Many years, many states away, in a far
more spacious place, at the braking
of a garbage truck, at the creak and hoist
of its mechanical arm pinioning a block’s-length
of bins to hoist and dump, I look up
from a book and know (the truck outside
rumbling away, my waste fraternizing with the waste
of my neighbors) that I want
to believe in God. Just like that—a new door
in a room I thought I knew by heart.
My hand is on the doorknob now, my ear
to the grain.
But what I hear
is the crackling hum
of light bulbs above, the tissued whisper
of an iris opening, the deep breathing
of the daily world—nothing
from the other side.
How do you listen for a sound you’ve never heard?
Or, more precisely,
for a sound you know so well
you’ve never heard it?
First published in 32 Poems.
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