Newton Smith

Listening to the Night

Each night he would step out
into the dark to listen
for something he could not name
or know or comprehend.

He would then stand there with
the darkness surrounding him
until the house sounds were dampened
by night’s muffling blackness,

and the sounds outside sorted
themselves out in his hearing.
First, his dogs in the distance
chasing the unseen away.

Then the crickets droning
the end of summer, the cars’
whine disappearing, an owl
screeching in the deep woods.

If he stayed long enough,
one by one the lights of his
neighbors’ houses would go out.
His own house would grow black

and he would be alone
on the back porch looking out
into the star streaked night sky
listening for a message,

some words he might mouth,
lyrics to accompany
the radiant symphony
of old songs, poems, and voices,

drowning out all night sounds,
becoming all he could hear,
and he would go indoors
hearing only his own noise

when silence was too much.
But if he forced himself
to stay, terror would approach and
draw back, poised like a wild thing;

then he could hear other
sounds, like the music between
notes, or like the meaning when
words remain unspoken.

The night was as loud as
the hum, the thump, the whisper
of his own aging body,
but still it was hard to hear.

He had to become still,
empty himself of next things
and wait for the dark entrance
of something so quiet.

Then breathing out, his song
began, words intoned with all
out there beyond, forever,
finally, words without end.