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.


— recipient of the 2010 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize