All of Us Listening to the Silence
poems by TRYFON TOLIDES
Village Time
 
The swallows' nest beneath the balcony.
The music of bees and flies in June, and birds at night.
The dog waiting for me and happy.
The folds of mountains.
Goat and sheep butter and eggs and native cheese.
           in the old small frying pan.
A bee having entered the house through the open window
           blessing each room like a priest
           then allowing the house’s silence to return.
The open window, the new air coming in
           and the village itself, alive.
The joy of cleaning the yard, weeding, pruning, sweating
           at leisure, bending, being there.
The time between hourly church clock strikes: I am
           returned and realigned to the dimension of childhood
           time—slow, within itself, and beyond itself,
           through imagination and grace and simply being—
           into ecstasy, into the mystery.
Butterflies mating on a weed stem.
Sheets hanging from the balcony, taking in the breeze
           and the light.
The joy inside my lungs.
The sense that there is no late.
The scent of the house when I first arrive, upon first
            opening the door, unstirred by people. The last one
            here was six months ago. Mostly the scnent of wood
            and stone, old ash, the echo of sweet melon.
            The echo of tears, the echo of happiness.
The light on hills, on a white wall, the shadow of the plum
             tree on the wall. Or inside the house, on a spider thread,
             on a shelf, or afternoon and golden
             on a photograph.
The light in itself. The night. Walking in the night.
Everything entire in village time. Through the parts,
             the eternal, the whole.

















After Vespers (I.M. Esfigmenou)
 
A monk by a window, then gone.
A monk by the faded red balcony railing, then gone.
A monk’s steps crossing the courtyard.
A monk stuffing husked ears of corn into a black
    plastic bag, then wheeling away
  a small generator on a wheelbarrow.
The sounds appearing, then gone.
The top of the canopy of grape leaves
    in a slight breeze.
The German visitors in the courtyard whispering
    then listening.
A monk washing his hands by a courtyard faucet.
A monk descending the wooden stairs.
The sounds appearing, then gone.
The front gate open, then closed.
All of us listening.
The lotus tree in the backyard, sticks holding up
    its far branches.
Half of a window closing.
The last reflections of light.
The lemon tree by the chapel.
The evening breeze coming in.
The canopy of grape leaves moving more.
All of us listening to the silence.

















First Rain in the Village
 
It’s five in the morning when the collective falling and each individual drop begin
to sound. In all its heart and tenderness and hardiness
and unpredictable nature and immunity to whim, the rain sounds like nothing else.
 
I move about the house opening windows to close the shutters
and pause each time for some sounds or wetness or scent.
 
I know from the unknown, from childhood, from all the real places. I lean
on the window sill in the kitchen near the neighbor’s tin roof shack
and the quince tree. Rain on the roof
 
and onto the dry grasses and into the earth. It is fine
to listen to the precise imperfection and beauty and modulation of rain falling.
It is all right. Everything is all right. There is nothing else more worth doing now.

















String Beans
 
on the woodstove, the village fogged over.
after last night’s rain. I go to the shed
for wood and get the fire going, the room warms
sweetly. I sauté garlic and onions,
cut potatoes and tomatoes, clean the beans.
In time I sit by the window.
Fog, silence, the sound of the stove
and of the juices cooking.
I listen to the fine grains of sound
in the casserole get nearer and nearer to silence.

















After
 
After days of rain the village was soaked, stones
looked like they couldn't hold more
water, they had been turned inside
out with water, some old huts
had parted with their stones, revealing
the insides of walls—mudflesh,
darkness, more stone. A chilly morning walk.
The sun began to appear, the fog began to lift,
I could hear the life of the river
and gorge awaken. It had rained that much.
Usually silence inhabits the village,
you can listen to things and to nothing,
and hear what you are listening to,
the identity of each and of nothing, the soul
needs that. The fat hissing of water
is rare in the village, but here that was
now, too, itself. Another special occasion.
Later, the sun brightened more
and a sweetness came as it always does
and a joy in being. There was no place but this
to be, nothing preferable. This was enough.
I was with the dog on a hill then.
And after, near evening, I lit a candle
in the cemetery, I entered the smell of the church,
said prayers in its smell and space and silence,
kissed the wood. I lit the wood stove
in the house and put local sausages
wrapped in foil in a pan on the stove. The room warmed,
the sweet sour scent of old entered my lungs.
The stars awaited. Happiness is not complicated.

















The Last Apple

I don’t know its name but find the tree in a nook in the village while wandering,
in the cleavage between hills, on some once orchard now of pricker bushes and vines.
I make a bag out of my shirt and gather 50 or so apples for the newspaper
on the kitchen’s stone floor. Crisp bright sweetness and tart at the edges. A small tree
the bears hadn’t gotten to. Most of the apples had dropped. I pick the good ones
from the ground and from the tree, eating along the way. Such red.
The universe in the real thing. The taste, the skin on the bite bleeding a fine pink,
can’t be found outside the experience of the real glowing apple, with picking
and hill wandering adding to the flavor, the shape of mountains, the particular air,
the stone by stone huts, goat paths, bells. The apples are small, perhaps an ancient stock.
Flavor, compact wholeness, beauty. On another day when I am down to a few,
I will take two on a walk. I will eat one and keep holding and turning the other
in my hand, eyeing its perfection and blessedness.

















Next to Silence (Kenosis)

What would be the best way or sound, next to silence, next to silent observation and the
silent rumination that comes from it, next to seedless husks swaying on their stems?
Would it be the bee, the river, birds, air through trees or on one’s skin? A truck’s sound
gone lost in mountain turns, then the sudden violation and enchantment
of its appearance, followed by its disappearance, again? Would it be thunder, rain, snow
falling? The human voice is a breach against hearing, against the land. Against
everything. We say something and blot out everything. When sitting above a river and
hawks’ nests in stone and sweet wild land and a village on a hill, don’t speak.
Or delay speech until other things have entered. Maybe then a bit of speech could fit in,
without leading to catastrophe, to death of understanding, as often human traits do. If we
understood there was something in it for us, that our lives and the earth and everything
depended on it, we could take up fitting in with the green of trees, their ways in wind and
light and abilities to thrive and move all their lives while standing still, alone or in
community, and once in a while, we could be only carriers of sound, instruments,
conveyers, receivers, reflectors, enrichers, revealers, refiners. With no wind, we could be
silent as trees. Open, present, and listening, as trees. Huddled and growing as trees.

















Unexpected Dailiness

Each day here is a bonus day, like an unexpected school day cancellation from stronger
than predicted snow or a power outage; the day then belongs/is returned to eternity and
timelessness and is a gift. One is wealthy.


I can drink water from the green hose by putting my lips to the meat of the fountain’s
top after watering the garden or digging the garden or splitting and hauling wood
or hauling manure. Or I can drink by cupping my hand under the spigot and pulling up
with my mouth, dipping my mouth and filling up.


I can listen to and feel the midday breeze and summer heat sift through trees
while resting under the balcony on the old bed of wooden peach crates and a straw-
stuffed mattress and pillow, during dappled light and direct light and roses. I can sleep.


And that’s not saying anything about the joy and sadness of the house itself. Its fruit
and wood and stone and doors. Folded blankets, uneven but stained shutter slats,
floors, walls, things left, things placed, things made, things insisted upon, like a diagram
of hope, devotion, and, we could say, love, and it would be true.
TRYFON TOLIDES was born in Korifi Voiou, Greece. His first book manuscript, An Almost Pure Empty Walking, was a 2005 National Poetry Series selection, published by Penguin in 2006. In 2009, he received a Lannan Foundation Writer Residency in Marfa, Texas.