88 – Whisper

The wife said, “Write about quiet,” which made me think of wind and tree sounds, faraway voices, the way those things become words and shapes of their own when quiet makes them indistinct – it blurs the clear lines between words and noises, and allows you to perceive the gestalt of them as a single voice. At least, for me.

Then I started thinking about the way creatures like Ents in Tolkien speak, so slowly it might take a week to say hello, a year to have a conversation. The Martians in Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” are somewhat similar – their life cycle is so much longer than ours that it takes decades for them to debate what to do about humanity, and at first, when humans arrived on the planet, they assumed it to be uninhabited. The Martian elders no longer have bodies we can perceive.

That’s one of the possible solutions to what’s known as the Fermi paradox, the idea that our universe is so vast and so old that it’s just statistically unthinkable that we haven’t already found evidence of even one extraterrestrial civilization. One of the ideas proposed in response to this problem, by Carl Sagan among others, is that extraterrestrials could evolve to a point where we would no longer recognize them as sentient, their language as language, perhaps no longer even perceive them as life. Perhaps their perception of time might be so different from ours that no human could live long enough to hear them speak a single word.

So this is a sonnet about that, kind of – the idea of language smeared across time, voices formed by a thousand throats a thousand miles away, at this distance just a whisper… well, what did they say?

Some Halloweeny art for you today. “Samhain,” November 2005

They say dark languages rarely survive,
but then, that’s a reductive view of life
from men who write history with a knife –
wanna bet nobody questioned their wives?

In the quiet you can see the pattern –
voices from the next room run together,
in every mouth, a fragment of a letter,
words no one’s lived long enough to discern.

You can hear it in the wind and rain
but only if it rains for forty nights.
No human born – at least nobody sane –
can get through all the drivel a ghost writes.
To hear the susurrations of your veins,
you have to silence all the parasites.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

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