In the Village of Silence
In the Village of Silence, we press index fingers to the lips of the newborn, the imprint leaving a gutter for the collection of tears and mucus. We teach them to forget, muzzle them with hush, weave their ears shut with the floss of their grandmother’s silk. They are left in the dark, their faces pressed against screens to feel the vibration of voices; their cheeks smell of moth wings and lost keys.
When the wind drifts with pollen the people remember the village stands at the edge of a ghost river. Air flows over the dry bed and rinses the bones of the dead. Birds perch between ribs and sing the forgotten songs. The dead rise, shoulders tattooed with galleons. Each square inch of missing skin a crosshatch of bruises. Our tongues unfurl in the night pulling taut as ships’ rigging, and the sails billow. The wild dogs that roam the arroyos catch the birds and capture our songs. We cannot speak, cannot sing.
The mountains surrounding the village wave their arms during daylight, become bathed with blood at sundown and can’t be trusted. They are scented with radium. Their waters taste of arsenic.
On the fifth new moon of the year, in order to perpetuate atonement and purification, in a calendrical ritual of affliction, the origins of which are forgotten, we line the river’s edge. We pass small boats of fire hand-to-hand and string the trees with shattered mirrors. As one constellation after another rises above our shoulders, the silk falls from our ears. We can hear the forgotten songs. In a restrictive syntax we ask for mercy. We fall on our knees, we fall to our forearms. We release our fingers, we release our guttered lips. In fly the dead, the wounded, their missing limbs.
We slip like dreams into your dreams, air under clouds, and rob the birds of ozone. One bird leaves, then another, then another. Then a flock rising. In their beaks, our songs. A murmur, a murder, a multitude. We forget we are forgiven. On our knees the earth smells of moth wings and lost keys. We are forgiven. We forget. Again we forget.
Stella Reed (she / her) is the co-author of the AZ-NM Book Award winning, We Are Meant to Carry Water, 2019, from 3: A Taos Press. She is the 2018 winner of the Tusculum Review chapbook contest for Origami. In pre-pandemic times, Stella taught poetry to women in domestic violence and homeless shelters through WingSpan Poetry Project in Santa Fe, NM. You can find her work in various journals and anthologies, most recently: The American Journal of Poetry, Baltimore Review (2020 contest winner), About Place Journal, The Fourth River, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Terrain. She is a Best of the Net nominee for 2020 and holds an MFA from New England College. Stella works for Audubon Southwest where she is a proud member of the Queer Affinity Group.
A Song for Stella