We have resolved not to be. Or rather
it has been resolved that we should not exist.
So we stay quiet, in the background,
Like children too good
who have quit playing so as not to make noise
and don’t talk or read because the pages
rustle when turned.
Slimmed down, yes, almost weightless,
without our moving, I say.
We stay staring at someone who doesn’t look,
who almost never sees us.
Sometimes we still exist
in the form of pricks of silence.
A thought-needle, a voice-splinter
gives the inaudible scream, “Still!”
Circe Maia, from The Invisible Bridge/El Puente Invisible
Translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015
The Japanese Soto Zen monk, Shunryu Suzuki, once famously said: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” The Uruguayan poet Circe Maia brings a “beginner’s mind” to everything she sees, allowing her poems to unfold with an equal measure of surprise and wonder at every turn. Lovingly translated into English by Jesse Lee Kercheval, Maia’s poems exude an immense patience, each word and line surrounded by a studied silence. This is no less evident than in this poem in which Maia gives voice to those possibilities, which seem always to hover around us, never leaving us completely, even after we’ve made the choice not to pursue them. “We stay quiet,” they say, “in the background,/ doing nothing.” But Maia also implies that such possibilities—”like children . . . who have quit playing so as not to make noise . . . “—nevertheless are always calling for our attention, waiting for us to notice again the ones that got away. It is easy to forget that every moment contains a constellation of choices, roads taken or not, as Robert Frost reminded us many years ago. Such prospects do not always occur to us or cause regret, and yet Maia writes of them: “Sometimes we still exist/in the form of pricks of silence.” I have noticed that if I let my mind go still enough, even for just a few minutes each day, the possibilities will sometimes flock around me, reminding me in their quiet way that I still have a say in how my life unfolds, how I choose to fill the precious hours. Yet we must also accept the past as past, and trust that there were reasons beyond our seeing that caused us to pursue one possibility over another. Though the “thought-needles” and “voice-splinters” may still now and then cause us pain, we can quietly acknowledge them before stepping once more onto the actual path right in front of us.