I Cannot Hear The Birds

by Buck Meloy 2015  




Lying in my bed away from the sea

in a growing town of 85,000 people

I hear a constant cacophony, a jumble of sounds,

from the world that surrounds me outside my open window. 


The never-ending current of the freeway rumbles by

a mile or two away, unbuffered in February

by the foliage of the thousands of trees and shrubs

that in warmer months soften it to a gentle roar. 


On three wide lanes in each direction, this traffic lumbers by,

with its wearing of tires, compressed by the tremendous weight of laden tractor-trailers,

and small cars and SUVs all whining in their unique timbres

against coarse concrete, tar strips, lane-dividers, and imperfections in the pavement.


It is a grand noise, so encompassing that the sounds of individual vehicles

cannot be distinguished, the roars of engines simply another chord

being woven in and out of the greater cloth.  Constant, endless, and never inaudible, 

bespeckled by horns and honks, the tapestry gains brilliance. 


Elsewhere sirens add to the music, with their wailing and yips and trumpeted groans,

heralding vehicles attending to emergencies occurring hither and yon

on the roads and parks and homes and businesses and schools and hospitals

of this robust town. 


I can hear the beep-beep-beep of a fork-lift backing up, somewhere near the mall

the engines of a mighty Alaska Airlines jet lifting off the distant airport runway

the fwap-fwap-fwap of yet another helicopter overhead reportedly keeping me safe

and burning enough fuel every day to supply every school bus in town. 


The mighty horn of a train, blaring nearly constantly to warn

people and vehicles and dogs to wait at the crossings

to allow the coal and oil and wood and people and freight their passage

on this fine day or night. 


“We cannot stop,” says this blare, “until commerce stops.” 

And their horns address me night and day, even though more than two miles distant

because the tracks curve on the other side of downtown

and fade away behind South Hill. 



I can hear the neighbor's pick-up's engine start, hear it through my house

and across the street and two houses down the hill, 

hear it idle until it warms up

when he gets into it and leaves.  


I can sometimes hear a dog bark, or a muffled human voice. 

I can hear the toilet flush on the far side of two walls in my house,

and hear the sound of the water that refills it flowing through the pipes until it is full. 

I can hear the ringing that is always present in my ears. 


But I cannot hear the birds. 

Perhaps if I went out into the yard I could hear them. 

They are surely flapping wings, singing, chewing, scratching. 

But I cannot hear the birds through my open window, my portal to all the other sounds. 




Long ago in New York City, late one night, numbed by the never-ending noise

I paused on a dark and cold sidewalk to contemplate what I was hearing. 

It was loud and long and endless, but one thing stood out. 

The sirens.  The sirens of cop cars, fire trucks, ambulances. 


The City That Never Sleeps never stops having traffic, deaths, accidents, injuries, crimes. 

And the wail of its sirens screeches on . . . and on. 

Listen at any hour and you will hear one somewhere, even from the distant boroughs

even at 4am.   Never a moment that you can't.




The sea invites contemplation.  The sea invites poetry. 

One must listen closely to hear its sounds,

must set aside the human habit of blocking noise out. 

A still sea is subtle, but always provides something if you wish to hear it. 


At sea on a fishing boat, the interloper's sounds prevail

providing proxies for the sounds of the sea itself. 

A gentle roll of the vessel sets things in motion 

and a loose fork in a drawer might make a slight "tink" against another fork. 


Anything round always rolls towards the source of gravity. 

Hence a loose marble or lone bullet or flashlight or chapstick will roll with the sea's roll. 

The ship's stays rattle against rigging.  Pooled water sloshes. 

There is no end to water at sea. 


When the wind picks up, so do the seas, so there is much more to hear. 

The wind sighs and whistles through the rigging. 

Things aboard are jostled and clank and rub. 

Water patters against the hull.  Hinges and joints squeak.  Bubbles gurgle, seeking air. 


The waves make sounds while splashing, rolling, dancing, cavorting. 

And if the winds are not too high

I can hear the birds.  I can hear their songs, their conversations,

their flapping wings, their yearning and their hopes.  


No trains, planes, or automobiles.  No trucks or blatting motorcycles.

No barking dogs nor human voices.  No sirens. 

Just the solitude of the ocean, and its voices, and those voices that it wakes.


And I can hear the birds.  I love the birds, and I can hear them.