but within these walls, more than a metre thick,
we hold, insulated, the history
and lost examples of silence.
Visitors are ushered, whispering
through padded cubicles, astounded.
Turn off your phones and music,
speak only in whispers.
We Curators live in silence.
It is our vocation – chosen
from the quietest children
we were trained to listen.
It is like a religion.
The first floor is devoted
to the silence before a sound
with perfect specimens of the pregnant pause:
the counted silence between flash and thunder
that measures your distance from a storm,
the animal quiet of the dog that will be first to bite,
the charged stillness of a held breath
between the last tick and the explosion,
and, the prize of our collection,
the last natural recording of a pin about to drop...
Beautiful isn’t it?
On other floors we preserve
examples of the silence after a sound –
the straining, listening silence after
the bump in the night,
the sullen tongue-holding of the instructed silence,
one minute silences filled with awkward sorrow,
and rare samples from ground zero
those twin silences of shock and awe.
Our interactive exhibit invites you to consider:
the silence of the crowd at the call for volunteers,
the silence of a majority who oppose without speaking
– the silence that is mistaken for complicity,
the silence that is suffered in.
Listen for a moment…
Our researchers are gathering examples
that measure silence – its depth and width
from the silence of mutual understanding
which needs no vocabulary
to the dumb silence of incomprehension,
from an argument seen through triple-glazed windows
to the last wilderness on a windless day.
Many silences are near extinction.
But we can manufacture them
using the exact wavelengths and frequencies
that echo the weighty absence of sound in space,
and we are close to containing
that final silence
when your own music stops,
and your body ceases whispering
its rhythmic commentary.
(c) Clare Kirwan 2005
First Published in Aberrant Dreams
Picture: Los Angeles new Museum of the Holocaust