Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Terry Blackhawk: Chambered Nautilus, with Tinnitus and Linden

Is it crickets, a thin wind across a wire,
hiss of spindrift off the crest of a wave,
or radio emissions from a planetary probe?
When I took the hearing test, this sound
I carry nearly drowned out the faint high or low-
pitched pulses of air I strained in order to ‘pass’
the test to hear—each tone becoming ever more
soft, so barely there I could almost see
it disappear—just as I’ve often strained
after birds in the farthest reaches
of the canopy. Call it a squint of sound,
tone on the edge of not existing at all
a hint, a sleight of breath—     a flutter on the branch,
bare after-image of the spot from which
desire just—        took wing.
Dr. Seidman calls it
a phantom phenomenon—lost hearing
reminding the hearer of itself—lost sounds
trying to make themselves heard. I make them ghost
sounds, haunting neural tin-pan alleys where syn-
aptic nitty gritty saints go marching intra-
cellular-ly. Call it mitochondrial fizz,
call it not-so-good vibrations—bits of DNA
decoding, or decaying, along the dendrites tip-
tapping the cochlea. It is static, uni-
linear, all pervasive in-
vasive, this persistent insistence.    I  will color it
empty flat sizzle not to be tuned
out—or away. But ah, to listen differently
to pick up and put back down again
the shell against the ear, to feel the reach
and return of one’s pulse traveling
through a golden mean. Shells do that, I mean—
arrange themselves in proportional beauty. Take
the Nautilus whose chambers catch and toss
back the rhythm of the wave—all heart and shush
echoing yes listen really it does sound
like crickets. So let us think again, of crickets,
yes again—and luminous evenings—and the beauty
of again again. How modest and mere those
myriad insects those summer nights our son
had just turned three.
There was music and a pulse to the background then.
And did it come from two hearts humming
or the echo from
that tree we loved—the heart-shaped leaves
of the heart-shaped linden, with its pour
of pollen—a buzzing fragrance of blossoms
and in every one of them a bee.


This poem was the recipient of the 2010 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize

Terry Blackhawk is the author of many books including One Less River (Mayapple Press 2019).

Copyright 2010 Terry Blackhawk.

3 comments on “Terry Blackhawk: Chambered Nautilus, with Tinnitus and Linden

  1. Viktor L Brown
    July 16, 2020

    Like the Linden, which is a great and sturdy tree given to long life and material source of sculpture, your poetry springs from the heart and from the roots of things, crafted in ways both delicate and strong..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Terry Blackhawk
    July 15, 2020

    Thanks so much, Barbara. I’m so grateful to Michael for featuring my poeml

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    July 15, 2020

    Yes. Perfect description of the physical sound and the thoughts/regrets behind the sound. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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