David Roderick
How I Learned Not to Speak

They were a hard and practical people,
and when they said
they were willing to serve me,
I took what they had to give:
bowls of rain,
prayer-husks filled with meat.

(Their firstborn, I.)

They cut my foreskin
when heat was a prisoner in the ground.
The trees stood naked
though the sun in Taurus rose.

When I chewed twigs for a change
of texture,
they said the scars
on the trees were fire-marks,
that buds were sorry
from smoke
and the far blood’s branching.

I listened to them
and grew: my hide, my legs,
the rhythm-and-rhythm
of an animal glimpsed at dusk.

(I was silent but not still.)

Wearing a wreath
of crocuses,
I walked the perimeter
because I liked
how the ground felt
under the soft pads of my feet.
Wet with the night’s rain,
it reminded me of my gift:
a silence that was ingrown,

Because they could do nothing
about the feeder flies,
the nettles that bit my side,
they did not like it
when I moved,

they who planted the seedlings,
the small hooded flowers
where I tried to sleep.

I received their permission
and their lies,
 and by guarding them,
by eating their brown bread,
I thought I would move beyond
the fact of flesh.

(Strength in my muscles, my legs.
The sting in my side
when I paced near the prickered fence.)

I kept my posture straight.
My mouth was wide and waiting.

Do you see?
I too had desire,
but as befits a fallen world
I could not survive
unless I calmed them
with my silence.

And so a childhood ended
and was buried:
quiet lion, latent lute,
their hands reaching to touch me.

Found In Volume 35, No. 05
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  • David Roderick
David Roderick
About the Author

David Roderick’s first book, Blue Colonial, won the APR/Honickman Prize in 2006. After earning an M.F.A. at the University of Massachusetts, he spent two years as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. He currently teaches poetry and creative writing in the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and he was named the recipient of the 2007-2008 Amy Lowell Travelling Scholarship.