There are three ascending levels of how one mourns: with tears ~ that is the lowest ~ with silence ~ that is higher ~ and with song ~ that is the highest.
Silence & Song is a diptych, two long lyric fictions hinged by a short prose poem. Inspired and informed by biology, physics, music, history, intimate violence, and miraculous resilience, all three pieces move from mourning to song. The primary speakers in these fictions contemplate human and environmental fragility, but are also besieged by evidence of infinite creative abundance: the eggs of shrimp that lie dormant for decades, the sophisticated symbolic language of honeybees, the ability of the creosote to live 10,000 years, the astonishing resurgence of wildlife in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
In “Vanishings,” a woman who works with children at risk in Tucson, Arizona imagines the experiences of immigrants trying to cross the blistering expanse of the Sonoran Desert. Rosana’s compassion is heightened by her personal history: the loss of her brother and sister in a car accident when they were children. She envisions the precarious existence of the Good Samaritan, Lewis Rohe, a man who stops to help a 14-year-old boy who has stolen his mother’s car and rolled it down an arroyo. In his confusion and terror, the boy shoots the man three times, leaving him critically injured. Rosana’s poem—her conflation of stories; her lucid evocations of hummingbirds, black holes, saguaros, elf owls, problem bears and lost children; her insistence on hope—is a love letter, a prayer to this stranger whose suffering illuminates and transforms her own sorrow.
“Translation,” the short hinge of the collection, describes a moment of transcendent nonverbal communication between young children in a multilingual literacy center in Salt Lake City.
The convergence of two disparate events—a random murder in Seattle and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl—catalyze the startling, eruptive form of “Requiem: home: and the rain, after.” Narrated in first person by the killer’s sister and plural first person by the “liquidators” who come to the Evacuation Zone to bury entire villages poisoned by radioactive fallout, “Requiem” navigates the immediate trauma of murder and environmental disaster; personal and global devastation; unexpected grace; and the remarkable recovery of the miraculously diverse more-than-human world.
Imagining what it is like to be someone [something!] other than oneself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.