The Constitution of the Inner Country

No one’s awake
but us, and a bird.
– Rose Styron

The house is small
and there are many people in it.
There are four.

Some of them talk
an awful lot.
I’m one.

I am not kidding
when I say
I tried.

For three years
running, my resolution:
talk less.

I want to be fluent
in silence.

I dreamed I pushed
through a fog heavy
as theater curtains.

I think I’ll be alone for a while.



Click here to read Elizabeth Majerus on the origin of the poem.

Image: photo by Todd Aarnes on Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.

Elizabeth Majerus:
This poem came out of my deep desire for more solitude and quiet in my life and from mining seeds that had been lying dormant in my notebook.

The main impulse behind the poem was a prompt I found buried in a Wendell Berry poem, “How to Be a Poet.” It has the lovely, intimate epigraph “(to remind myself).” This seemed to me a generous assurance for fellow poets: even the great ones must humble themselves before the process and remember the truths of craft. The prompt comes in the final two lines of the poem: “make a poem that does not disturb / the silence from which it came.”

For inspiration, I turned to my notebook, where I was reminded of a poem that accomplishes this task stunningly, Rose Styron’s tiny 1995 poem “Untitled [No one’s awake].” I took my epigraph from that poem. I attempted to describe the noise and crowdedness of my life, a life I love but must occasionally and gratefully recede from into the quiet solitude of poetry. I stripped that full, noisy reality down to the most hushed lines I could.

Two more bits from my notebook helped me resolve the restlessness of my first five stanzas. The line “If I pull the fog away like theater curtains, what then?” from Diane Seuss’s Silence Is So Accurate, Rothko Wrote and the line “I think I’ll be alone for a little while,” from Frank O’Hara’s Katy were near each other in my notebook. I remade the lines into a dream and a final resolution, moving the poem from the problem of noise to the temporary reprieve of fog-clearing solitude.

For the title of the poem, I drew on Leonard Cohen’s 1978 observation that, “The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country.” My inner country needed a new founding document enshrining the value of silence and solitude, drawing on the wisdom of my poetic forbears.

Elizabeth Majerus
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