City of Secrets
Different Kinds of Silence on Top of Queen Anne Hill
photos by brian weiss
Today I am a neighbor in the aisles of the store where just
Last week I walked right past my mother's
Twin sister who does live
On the same hill in the same city and who sometimes I do
See, but this was the first in the grocery, the one
I prefer. This
Is a strangeness. Living in my midst. A flower
I picked by the stem
for the root. Of silence they say
There are so many kinds.
I have practiced so few.
There's a library at the American Academy in Rome that acts as a sort of weekday port of call to traveling scholars from all over the world. Once for three weeks I held a special key to it while I stayed at the Academy as a visiting artist way back in, I don't know—2006? Most nights, unable to sleep, I'd use the key to let myself in around 2 a.m., totally alone, the only lights the lights I myself had flipped on by their strange switches. There I sat at a table surrounded by scholarly red-spined Italian books while in my notebook I made slow incremental accumulations toward poems that would reach full size as finished work after much labor, years later, and even now I'm not done. In any case, I was after-hours in a private library in an ancient city and nobody in the world knew where I was, so manifestly far was I from everyone I'd known or loved or would know or love. Back in the US Northwest, it was literally still yesterday. So when I talk about privacy, or silence, or solitude, I'm talking about that library, at night, alone.
I teach and write and pay my bills in Seattle. Waiting tables suits me because I get my days free, by which I mean free of people. My daylight life takes place on Queen Anne Hill, which, by the measures of silence and privacy, is something like that Roman library. While the rest of the world is at work, I am able to come and go to and fro under the umbrella of near-silence and privacy that perhaps only a childless only-child poetry-reader and -writer like myself can truly crave and appreciate.
I take the same walk around the top of Queen Anne Hill almost every day, through a mansiony view-heavy neighborhood while, as I said, most everyone else is away at work or on vacation. So it's me and the hedge trimmers, the landscapers, the nannies, and the sleeping babies in their strollers, but mostly just myself gratefully alone on weekday afternoons, alone like the day I walked right past my mother's twin sister in a top-of-the-hill grocery store.
I'm not talking to my mother—and right here, for damn sure, I'm not going to write about why or how long—even while that silence, the silence between my mother and I, defines, sometimes astounds, but maybe most of all understands me. Let me say that again: Our silence understands me.
Silence is a place and also an action. Silence is also a thing (with a color: Silence is gold). The silence between my mother and me impresses me the way that the ocean impresses me—one must not turn one's back on it. But it also impresses me as the strange single example of my own ability to practice reserve. For while I am a person who seeks solitude I also think of myself as a person who must constantly s/eek out and discuss (and discuss!) the nuances of relationships with the people with whom I'm having them. While I'm having them. All the time. Not so with my mom! There I'm doing a really good job at being totally silent for a very long time. The silence is more mine than hers (she would wish to break it) and/but I am at home inside it in the exact same way I'm at home in a closed Roman library that I am sure has the same approximate footage as my solitary two mile walk through the mansion-lined alleyways on top of Queen Anne Hill.
I'm not talking to or about my mother, who lives on the outskirts of the rest of my family in another city. I'm not talking about my mother, but she really DOES have a twin sister. Margo. Who lives in Seattle. Here on top of Queen Anne. Who I did see in that grocery store once. But really I'm not talking about my mother's twin sister, either. Rather, I'm talking about not talking to her in a grocery store that, as of last August, itself no longer exists. The building is not there anymore, nor the brick apartment complex that sat next to it in which I did or didn't have sex with a coworker years ago. That actual hole (in which I didn't do anything—or did, but just once—in a place that no longer exists) is also near a house where several other times I did and or didn't have sex with someone else, someone else who was house-sitting for the owners, a couple who then sold that house to some friends of my ex's ex, another woman with whom I maintain a strict and layered silence.
And my point is what? Not this: Another house, my favorite along the walk, the modest big-yarded white wood-and-brick one-story with unimpeded views of water and mountains, the house that unfailingly reminds me of my dead grandmother (long dead, dead around the time I stopped talking to my mother, and who in large part raised me if I was raised at all)—that house was razed a year ago. I like to visit where it was. Meaning: I go to a house that isn't there to visit the whiff of the memory of an old woman who died 25 years ago. Talk about a library of silence! Talk about my mother's twin sister in a store. Of silence they say/There are so many kinds. So I said. Hi, Margo.