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Blog - Richard Downes

Signs: Quiet


I found this sign one time I was out with friends at the Barbican. As a stammerer I was attracted to the word ‘speechless’. I hoped my camera would let me close in on that single word. It wouldn’t. I had to accept the rest of the text too. I’ve let the text form the poem.

More words than I said

Hush. Numbers are coming
Coming through with words
Numbers bring the beat
Words a rhythm subjugated to time

I remember by this number silence
Standing still, standing stupefied
Locked in, landed, stranded, locked and lazy
Fearful, afraid, of fine food dates
The days they say of wine and roses

The party room in the house of this number is filling up
I see faces, hear laughter, engaging, engagement
And still, I stand still, looking for a corner
A place of darkness to sit and watch in silence
Hopeful but terrified of interaction

I am speechless for innumerable reasons
In the library, during this numbered year
I sit in silence leafing through academic
theory, counting, adding, considering why
wondering how many of these words fit
feel snug and right in line with my life experience

Further back in time, a child of a certain age
Sits afraid of new strangers chiming chuffing choo choo
Sounds of laughter and whilst mocking, kindness too
There are many things i’m told I could do
Sing, swear, talk to a monotonic beat, shout
Breathe and let it out, relax and let it out

And the days move on and the seasons change
And the party room fills up again
And all this family and all these friends, the very same
The days of wine and roses have arrived for they who speak
And meanwhile I sit, cornered, afraid to engage
Afraid to speak

Afraid to speak
Afraid of contortion
Shamed by blocks
Shamed by mer mer mers
The strangers see the strangeness
Strangers define the strangeness maker stupid
Ask for translation and move on nonplussed
Uninterested and slightly narked
If not downright angry at the idiot
Who invited him to this party
What? It is his party?

And the embarrassment is shared now
The fear the terror, the lights go out
We are equal in the darkness until
The cake with candles brings a song
A song I won’t be singing
Silenced in the darkness and silent in the glare
Still, strange and silent
Still strange
Ssssh Silence

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