My friend once took a vow of silence

a whole week in the Smoky Mountains

surrounded by the rustling sunlit trees

birdsong scored at intervals

rain paradiddling on the leaves

little gulps in the puddles

& that fifth night when the wind rose

& the dark thundered with percussion

things falling, turning over

trees creaking as they clung

My friend my poor friend

with nothing but books

prayers & meditation

silent meals silent walks

& silently after the storm

he crept to the one phone booth

on the vast estate & there he sought

not conversation not company

not even chatter

He wanted a human voice so badly

he cracked the white pages

ran a finger down the list

& like Olivier began to recite

the glorious alphabetical names

savoring them as if they were food

& he were starving

thrilling as they left

the empty chamber of his mouth

& made their passage into whisper

It must have been like that

when god broke his silence

& named the animals

–Patrick O’Leary


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