Language Trouble

by Richard Schiffman

Your silence resonates in my belly
like ice crackling on a winter lake,
a trigger’s click, the report of a rifle
in the woods, a fog horn moaning
in the pea soup distance.

It’s like words before they’re spoken,
a thought before it fully forms.
I almost know what you are trying
to tell me, but don’t quite. Understand,
I mean. I never learned your secret code.

Or you never learned my native
dialect. Noun, verb, object: I love
you. A clear declarative sentence.
Better left unsaid, I suppose. Better
to leave the dream to dream unmolested.

Nothing to misunderstand that way.
This messy business stays in chrysalis.
The fetus does not need to descend.
Keep it clean, keep it bloodless. A word
that stays on the tip of your tongue,

an unhatched egg, a question mark
without a question, lyrics unhitched
from any song. No worries, we’ll still hear
the music. A broken record playing again
and again some mute, immutable refrain


Richard Schiffman is an environmental reporter, poet and author of two biographies based in New York City. In addition to the Hawai`i Pacific Review, his poems have appeared on the BBC and on NPR as well as in the Alaska Quarterly, the New Ohio Review, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, Writer’s Almanac, This American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily and other publications. His first poetry collection What the Dust Doesn’t Know was published in 2017 by Salmon Poetry.

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