Project Description

Silent and Listen Are Spelled with the Same Letters

“…even in wilderness areas…the average [man-made] noise-free
interval has shrunk to less than five minutes during daylight hours.”
—Gordon Hempton, Acoustic Ecologist

It takes hard listening, what Inuits call
“Seuketat,” the ear of the animal…

Your breathing slows, resonates
so you can’t move or speak,

when the only sound is wind
whirring among the maples

and an overtone of light. You can hear
the difference between

locust leaves and oak, between pine wind
and meadow wind,

recognize the height and thickness
of grass blades,

hear smokebush tufts ruffling,
tree limbs quivering,

one pine needle singing
at its own decibel.

Even the moon speaks
in shifting tides,

the sun’s heat in ice melt, glaciers calving,
splitting, cracking,

in snow’s hushed breath.
Streams announce their age

tumbling over older, slick stones,
in ripples and murmurs—

not the staccato sounds
of rough, jagged rocks.

Every tree species has its own voice,
each leaf pattering

and pinging at a different pitch—
raindrops cascading

down forest canopies for hours
after a shower stops.

You can hear a nuthatch flock
fluttering, a coyote’s

moonlit howl signing the air,
insect wings hissing

in night’s gurgling soundscape,
or a leopard’s guttural growl.

Silence—ocean surf playing
the inner hollows…of driftwood.


is a lioness of the creeping dark,
that rouses from slumber,
slinks around the field’s edge,
stalks the chestnut, smoke bush,
stand of cedar—her body as fluid
as the wind that vanishes when
she appears. Her weight bruises

the horizon. Phantom shadows
shiver in fits and shutterings
from boxwood to burning bush
at her approach. Insects begin
their serenade—cicada hum,
buzz of tiger beetle, clicking
katydid, and crickets harmonize

like human voices. If only I could
hear Gypsy moth’s ultrasonic song,
earth’s inner turmoil, gurgling
chatter. I want to taste it all
like this giant cat licking sweet peas,
the hem of raspberries, sugar
smeared all over my skin.

She prowls my hillside garden
with stealth, so close I feel fur
brush my arm, her breath electric
down my neck. How I love this hour
when night hawks go quiet in gauzy air,
when the sun takes leave, and clouds
are salmon swimming in coral smoke.

Carol Was

Carol Was is the poetry editor for The MacGuffin. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Sycamore Review, among others, and has been nominated for Best New Poets. Her chapbook, Why Not Oysters, was a finalist in the Slaporing Hol chapbook contest. She’s an active member of Springfed Arts—Metro Detroit Writers, and the Detroit Writer’s Guild.