An Ode to the Silent Poem


in 10th grade my teacher tells us

that poems are meant to be read aloud


that the first Poem was The Odyssey

and that Homer was not a Poet but a mouth

 –a chorus of roving mouths–

made ancient in their hunger and despair


she told us that when a Poet speaks

it is a thousand tongues moving

probing the root of each syllable

like a broken tooth


(some poems are so old

they are not even meant to be written down)


and still, she reminds us, there is the matter of the ear

or ears

of rhythm, meter, rain sticks and thunderclaps


Shakespeare was never meant to be bound

in a still and lifeless text!

creaky binding

dust motes and sharpies!


(stars, defy this).


poetry, she insists

consists of spittle and stage lights

orchestras pulled taught

roaring chords and costumed dramas


but what, I think, of the silent poem?

what of the hometown library

and the books we stuffed in lockers

and remembered on motel napkins


what of billy collins on the subway and

flyers on damp concrete

what of reading?

what of the reader?


what of the places where no one speaks

and no one moves

just catches light


or how I read the orange by wendy cope

alone in my bedroom

without you or

your mouths or your ears

and still felt a hinged door opening


my teacher tells me it is now my turn to read aloud

I ask

what is so deficient about the page

that even I have to be added to it.




we want to be white boys

who die onscreen


we want slicked back hair


dark eyes


we want to grab our brother’s neck

as we sink into stone

we want montague, we want



we want a penknife between the ribs

just before the red ribbons erupt


don’t tell me it’s staged

don’t tell me it’s masquerade


tell me i’m a White Boy


tell me I’m beautiful.


tell me I’m earnest

tell me I’m doe-eyed

brave, heart-struck, hopelessly doomed


tell me that ratty leather jacket

will always stay my father’s size

and that staging fights solves nothing


tell me that dish rag

hasn’t cleaned a glass in years

so stop trying, kid


(keep looking for me for years)


tell me I have a gun in my pocket

tell me it could go off


I want bloodied chins

and broken noses

I want superman’s curl


watch as I turn into dust

into everything

death-rattle, ignition roar, rallying cry


let me die a white boy’s death

that eternal descent into ice floes

that fall that never hits the ground


pull me away in stagelights

and soft sweat glow

wrap me up in a white sheet

from the kitchen curtains


tie it up yourself.

I’ll go back into the stage.


Bad Day Rising


sometimes, there are days when

the pain is so long and ridiculous

all you can do

is lie back and ask:

why me?


why me?


the same answer for every

bed-ridden questioner.


so here it is: your father made mistakes

or else

your mother made mistakes


or maybe it was your brother

or that social worker

or that teacher

and her father and her mother and her brother and his aunt


the same old mistakes

so old we don’t even have to list them


carving the same old lines

into all the same old people


perhaps the sky wasn’t big enough

or the ocean was too wide

or a war started on the eve of your birthday

and never ended

and now you have to fight it,

even though you’d never enlist

pleading with the recruitment officer


“please sir I’m

blind in my left foot and

flat in my right eye and

nothing inside me has ever quite worked properly”


“I know”

says the recruitment officer.

“That’s why we’re doing this.”


and you are shipped off to sea anyway.


so why you?


stop asking.


I know how it hurts

I know how long the pain is

how ridiculous


how you seethe at the window

in the stillness of all that writhing

and see fairy lights glittering across the water

I know you hear Sinatra and Coltrane

alive in the midnight air


I know you wonder, in those times,

why me?


there is no why

all you have is your bedsheets

and your windowsill

and the curiosity to be better


so if all you can do is lean out

into that soft night air

and breathe


lean in.


Biographical Note: Hannah Siegel is writer living in New York City. She is an undergraduate student in sociology at New York University, and a recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship award. When unoccupied, she can be found visiting her dog (and loved ones) in her proud hometown of Orlando, FL.