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2nd Place Fall Poetry Contest Winner: NINE TYPES OF SILENCE - Alison Davis


We all share the same reason for being here.

The chairs are arranged in a circle.

The doctor seats herself in one of them.

The plastic creaks under her slight frame.

One girl swirls her coffee and takes a sip.

I watch her lipstick imprint itself on the lid.

If no one speaks, we won’t have to acknowledge what we know.

If we stay silent, our stories don’t exist.


He flicks his tail and takes two more steps along the dusty ridge.

The earth, a tinderbox below his feet, cracking until he stops

in his tracks. Alarm brachycardia in us both. I swat the flies away

while he stands still, while his broken antler dangles near his

left eye. What do we see when we see each other? Nothing rustles,

not the birch leaf mountain mahogany sunning itself along

one side of the trail, not a wisp of my hair. The sky is mysteriously

paused. Do his ears, like wings outstretched, hear my heart-question?

He looks at me through the thick silence. The creek below has long dried out,

and I turn back toward it, answerless.


We can hold each other’s gaze

from here to the green hillside.

We can choose to explain things

with our fingers or with stones.

We can hear the spider spinning

her web in the blackberry brambles

and wait for her to tell

her own story

of her own sky

and see ourselves in it.

While we say nothing, the grass

grows in our souls.


I don’t tell anyone about my collection. A poppy. A tulip. A shoelace. A jar of nail polish. Emil’s socks. The crest of the mosaic. A penned and discarded grocery list—don’t forget the mayonnaise! The stoplight at Central and Rengstorff. A glug of salsa picante at the taqueria, where the men huddle around the small table and forgo all chatter over lunch. Clara’s ponytail holder. The decadent roses blooming just down the street. Blood, my blood. The sacred words. The sacred wounds. A bookmark. A memory.


There are scraps on the floor, magazine clippings, postcards, pages torn from books.

The hills turn to honey. The streetlights come on. The moon is tracking overhead.

The work is not finished.


He was much older than I was, taller too. His shirt was haphazardly tucked in, and the hems of his pants trailed the ground a little as we walked, side-by-side, without looking at each other. We turned left at the borage. We dipped under the bougainvillea. We paused beneath the trellis. I had never met him before, but here he was, telling me about the day his partner was diagnosed with cancer, how his daughter once cut his hair in his sleep, which direction he thought the clouds would roll in from. His voice had mountains and valleys. His words were cliffs and prairies. I lived in his landscapes without saying a word, because that’s what I was told to do. Is this a kind of love? The teacher said that the listening space speaks through the speaker. When it was my turn to share, I cried instead.


We used to go for walks at night. We used to taunt the darkness. Battered

and reckless, we drug our bodies around, counting lights in distant windows,

giving ourselves ultimatums, asking for rain. Deserted parking lots. Troubled

thoughts. We read accusations in the stars and found corroboration in our scars.

We hated our bodies so tenderly. We despised our stories with such depth of care.

A wayward hand at the piano bench. A blood-stained mattress. A caged rooftop.

A knife at the throat. We never made a sound when we slipped back inside,

slid into bed, let the ghosts hold court. Once, we dialed the number of a friend who said

to reach out and hung up on the first ring. What would they say if they knew:

we have been scythed by this brutal life, we are choosing oblivion.

Gasp and grieve and disappear.


A poem births itself out of a great silence.

I recall “The Mower” and “Red Brocade”

and make a simple vow inside my heart:

I will be kind.

A poem flirts with the ripest silence.

I cross the threshold to be with Wendell Berry

and decide not to ask him a single question.

A poem creates a dazzling silence.

Ghosts Of lies open on my desk. Nox is its companion.

My hands are bridging unspeakable losses.

A poem baffles.

I, too, have felt this furious light cascading through the epochs.


We are in a circle, afraid of what our voices might reveal.

We are in the high meadow, begging the buck to tell us the way.

We are gardening and foraging and telling a story of growth.

We are gathering color for the long winter.

We are bigger than our imaginings of this moment, in this moment.

We are filling our pockets with the stories of strangers until they are strangers no more.

We are growling and howling inside.

We are smithers of whisper-words that caress the silence, not shatter it.

We are.


Alison Davis is an educator with fancy degrees in literary studies, but she considers her willingness to be like Rumi and gamble everything for love as her greatest credential.



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