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Larry Smith

A Moment of Silence

What if the speaker had said instead,
“Now, let us take 10 minutes of silence”?
How would the crowd have felt
passing through the anxious seconds
into whole minutes of sweet stillness,
sitting or standing, hands folding,
eyes perhaps closing, as when
an orchestra begins to play.
Not silence but stillness,
taking in all, breathing it out
again and again, slowly
like cattle in a meadow.

I once saw Allen Ginsberg at NYU
turn a crowd of 500 into meditators
drinking in the quiet shared,
touching the calm within ourselves
moving the moments into hours.

Counting the Stars

The mother and father, the teacher and priest,
the policeman standing beside your car,
all of them knowing, all of them sure,
imposing old road maps onto the present.
It is written, they say and believe, and that knowing
closes doors. Governments and institutions
are built on the expected, constructed to a plan,
solid and massive, square to the ground.

And yet birds do fly, fish breathe through water,
children run to you without expectation,
seeing the possible in everything:
icicles hanging from trees, the tail of a dog,
a wet leaf they hold in their hand.
And in you too they see all,
erasing your pledge to memory, routine,
the way you’ve always been. “You be a tree,”
they say, “I’ll be your falling leaf.”
And you do, and you are…more,
tasting the joy of not knowing, together
counting the uncountable stars.

Larry Smith, poet, novelist, editor of Bottom Dog Press, was co-editor with Ray McNiece of America Zen: A Gathering of Buddhist Poets and co-translator of The Kanshi Poems of Taigu Ryokan, both from Bottom Dog Press.