• The Quiet World

    After Jeffrey McDaniel’s “The Quiet World.”


    Annie and I are having a dance party. I push the coffee table to one side so there’ll be room to move. Annie’s already dancing; from time to time the screen freezes and there are a thousand staggered Annies. “Can you hear? Can you hear?” she asks and I nod my head, do a thumbs-up. I can’t hear. I follow her movements, arms up, arms down, twist and turn. Someone crosses Annie’s living room, bends down, removes a book from the shelf.

    In an effort to get people to look

    into each other’s eyes more,

    and also to appease the mutes,

    the government has decided

    to allot each person exactly one hundred

    and sixty-seven words, per day.

    I watch a guy on Facebook playing guitar and singing. He leans into the screen but he can’t see me, he’s reading comments sent by viewers. I click on a heart emoji and watch it quivering up the screen like a balloon let loose, like a salmon shooting up the river, along with all the other hearts and smileys.

    Outside the leaves on the lemon tree glitter in the rain, stars in a vast sky. The birds start their dawn chorus, crows and parakeets, wrens and robins. There’s a faint rustling through the hyssop bush. The lavender, the wild mustard.  Blue lupines sway in an early morning breeze.

    There was a power cut yesterday. We fumbled around in the dark looking for candles and matches using the light from a cell phone. We need more matches. We need to charge laptops when the power returns. We need to check on the kids.

    Late at night, I call my long distance lover,

    proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.

    Dorothy is keeping busy. On Skype she tells me she’s finished cleaning the door handles in her apartment and is now cleaning the doorbell, just in case.

    I saved the rest for you.

    My phone isn’t working. The line is distorted, the calls cut after a few seconds. I get the point and stop trying.

    When the phone rings, I put it to my ear

    without saying hello. In the restaurant

    I point at chicken noodle soup.

    I am adjusting well to the new way.

    I’m adjusting well to this new way. The café up the road is closed. I’ve stopped asking Raz to read me the news. I read it myself. I read this poem, I read the novel assigned in my book club last month. The words dance around, settle on the page. The wind whips up outside and the windowpanes rattle nervously in their wooden frames. The dog looks at me mournfully. I pat her soft little head, rub her fur the wrong way so it sticks up. When the phone rings, I put it to my ear. It’s Petra, my friend from way back when. “Joanna?” she asks.

    When she doesn’t respond,

    I know she’s used up all her words,

    so I slowly whisper I love you

    thirty-two and a third times.

    After that, we just sit on the line

    and listen to each other breathe.