1008: Kinds of Silence

1008: Kinds of Silence

1008: Kinds of Silence


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I’ll never forget the day at Saint Elizabeth’s Elementary School when my teacher, Dave Hagan, stopped our math lesson to speak passionately about what it meant to be a peaceful caring citizen of the world. He was our 6th grade algebra teacher, who broke, that day, into an emotional speech about the value of all life. His spontaneous lecture was prompted by my friend Gerald, who’d interrupted his lesson on quadratics to ask about the image on the front of the desk. It was a sticker that featured arms of varying skin colors grasped together in a circle with the word “humanitarian” in multicolored letters.

In his youth, Dave protested the Vietnam War. He often spoke about peace. The other sticker on his desk was of a dove with an olive branch in its beak. He was an early model for me of someone who envisioned a better Earth and just and equitable communities. He also worked alongside members of the Plowshares movement to help remedy our addiction to war. He brought these issues into my life, and later my art, as ongoing political concerns, a way of being and existing, for which I am grateful.

Over the past year, I have thought frequently about the pitch and fervor of Dave’s talks to us, which were equally rageful and mournful. We were a group of young, black kids, whose families faced structural, systemic, and gang violence in our neighborhoods, who knew what it meant to live in fear.

I can only imagine the collective anxiety of people in the Middle East, Africa, and eastern Europe for whom the reality of dying is ever-present. Lately, I hear Dave’s voice whenever I talk with friends about the unnaturalness of human aggression and of the bombing of children and the elderly. This state that we are in, this sense of the presence of weapons and rockets is overwhelming and can easily lead to the belief that war is an inevitable and ongoing fact of human existence. It shakes even the most hardened pacifist among us.

But we must hold the line and support a greater vision of freedom from strife. And if you know someone like Dave, who is quietly or loudly on the front lines of working for peace, please find a way to support them.

Today’s poem captures that feeling of expectancy and uncertainty, a feeling that resonates lately, as I find myself wondering about the future — with so much of the earth and its inhabitants hurting, yet also, working towards a peaceful vision of our humanity.

Kinds of Silence
by Elisabeth Murawski

After heavy snow.
After the last breath.

Before lightning strikes.
Before the first breath.

In a spider’s web.
In a musical rest.

Of a sleeping dog.
Of a stone general’s breast.

With an old friend.
With a favorite brother.

From the mouth of God.
From a cold mother.

On closing a book.
On fearing what’s to come.

Under a witch’s spell.
Under a dictator’s thumb.

By a frozen river.
By a stone that’s leaning.

At the end of a war.
At another war’s beginning.

"Kinds of Silence" by Elisabeth Murawski. Originally published in Southern Poetry Review. Used by permission of the poet.