A person supposedly speaks sixteen thousand words a day,
meaning the world utters 128 trillion words a day:
612 million Moby-Dick’s, 228 million War and Peace’s,
thousands of I chair here go lettuce oh shit no rice street o’clock’s
across the globe. When I speak a lot in a day,
I feel like a shop at closing time,
ransacked displays of empty crates and trays.
Some days it’s hard to get past two thousand words.
People pay to be silent for weeks,
though one study found 67 percent of men
opted for an electric shock over fifteen—
fifteen—minutes of silence.
Twenty-five percent of women opted for the shock.
I might choose the zing of electricity out of curiosity
though I usually prefer quiet. Even now
when people call on me in groups I feel like
coffee that sloshes out of its cup when a car brakes too fast.
I have to push the self into the audience, rehearse
lines at home for my role as Human in the City.
Is this seat taken? You dropped your subway stop—
If I don’t speak up, others behead my sentences
at the subject and I vanish again,
mistaken for another nowhere. Saying nothing
is like claws scrabbling against a glass tank.
Not that I have anything to say that will
amaze the room, but all it takes is
a few words, then a few more, to join
the chorus of mutterings, the world’s unwieldy
text, even if when I look you in the eye and speak,
you are on another block, down the path,
talking shit about some other day, even if
you are far on to the next shock,
the next astonishment.