A Poem of Belonging


Beauty rests as much in the pause as in the phrase.
I woke not to the cock’s crow, but to the in-between silence. 

The quiet seemed complete, as if all the world
Had come to an end, except for him and me.
He would crow, pause, and then crow again and again. 

Each time, I imagined him gathering
For another outburst of pride, as if every exhale
Lay claim to the world around him:
“Mine! Mine! Mine!”

But then I heard what seemed to be an echo,
Yet not an echo. Rather, an answer. And then,
More faintly still, I heard another. And I understood
The cock had rested not just to inhale, but also to listen
To other claims to other hillsides, and I knew him
Not as soloist but as part of the choir,
Whose entrances were metered to the acoustics of the hillsides. 

And their pauses were intricately linked
To give each his voice in this vast chorus as
“Mine” became “Ours.”

--"Stand-To" from General Discharge.

Stand-to is a military term, describing a moment of maximum readiness for a dawn attack. You are on the defensive--ready to defend your turf.

I wrote this poem after waking in a foreign country. And in that initial moment of hearing his crowing, I'll admit I thought the rooster was pathetic, even laughable. He was so sure of himself. He was, you might say, cocky. But really, what claim did he have to anything

And in a strange place, a place where I didn't speak the language, I found it easier to imagine that I, that all of us there, had much in common with that rooster. I didn't belong there, but there I was, staking my claim to a spot on the ground. But because I didn't speak the language, it was much easier in those early dawn hours to just listen. So I did. And I was surprised to discover that there wasn't one rooster, but many. I suppose I could have written a different poem, stayed with the idea that they were all calling out "mine." It was an artistic choice for me to decide that they were one voice, and that they were united, not divided. 

This is not a new poem. But it seems a poem worth offering again in this moment. We all have choices to make, and many of them come down to this: do we hear the voices as saying "Mine!" or "Ours!"? What do we belong to? What belongs to us?

And, of course, the poem is an invitation to stop crowing and just...listen.

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