Sotto Voce

By John Brehm b. 1955 John Brehm
To strip away this incessant chatter,
yes, but what lies underneath it?

Death, of course, or our fear of death.
Which is why we talk so much,

bury our heads in books, turn forests
into pages and pages into mirrors

in which we see ourselves appear
and disappear. When I look up

from the story I've been reading
about the Jews in Nazi Germany

and the silence that closed their
mouths forever, I see a girl outside

the cafe smiling in at her father
who smiles back but cannot hear her.

She makes all kinds of gestures
with her hands, mimes herself

inside an invisible box and breaks
down laughing. Then she gathers

her breath and blows it against
the window. It is not snowing

outside, the leaves have hardly begun
to turn, the season is merely poised

for the long descent, but still
the glass steams up. And in this

little cloud of warmth that's come
from deep inside her body, she

writes a single joyful word, which
vanishes almost before she finishes.

Permission granted by the author.

Source: Poetry (August 1999).


This poem originally appeared in the August 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

August 1999
 John  Brehm


John Brehm was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and educated at the University of Nebraska and Cornell University. He is the author of Sea of Faith, which won the 2004 Brittingham Prize, and Help Is on the Way (2012), winner of the Four Lakes Prize from the University of Wisconsin Press. In the Georgia Review, Judith Kitchen praised Sea of Faith for its “unified consistency of tone and sophistication of approach,” remarking that the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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