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Grave by Billy Collins

Posted Nov 03 2010 10:05am

What do you think of my new glasses
I asked as I stood under a shade tree
before the joined grave of my parents,

and what followed was a long silence
that descended on the rows of the dead
and on the fields and the woods beyond,

one of the one hundred kinds of silence
according to the Chinese belief,
each one distinct from the others,

but the differences being so faint
that only a few special monks
were able to tell one from another.

They make you look very scholarly,
I heard my mother say
once I lay down on the ground

and pressed an ear into the soft grass.
Then I rolled over and pressed
my other ear to the ground,

the ear my father likes to speak into,
but he would say nothing,
and I could not find a silence

among the one hundred Chinese silences
that would fit the one that he created
even though I was the one

who had just made up the business
of the one hundred Chinese silences—
the Silence of the Night Boat,

and the Silence of the Lotus,
cousin to the Silence of the Temple Bell
only deeper and softer, like petals, at its farthest edges.

Billy Collins’s most recent collection is Ballistics (2008). He served as the U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003.
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