Of Solitude

There was a stillness in the woods, though not the daily stillness of the woods. They’re rarely still. The wind moves the leaves. There are birds and birders moving, too. In woods I hear the whispering people speak of. Old scripts of parting pretend that love is meant for passing on. In woods I, too, am sometimes passing too quickly toward a point that is beside the point of being in the woods. Bright antimatter, the way out. But within, this time, there were invisible circumferences on the ground, which is hardly ever truly still. Get down close and it’s all mites and grubs and mayhem. In the woods, within this one time, the stillness smelled like the cold coming off my father’s tough-guy leather jacket when I was still little and he still came home, cold that wanted to change but couldn’t on its own. Most mornings, the stillness in the woods listens nervously to the conspiracies of voles, the bats sighing in their flat modernist houses. There are other stillnesses like mint, like Teflon, you cannot get rid of, stillnesses for sale in the hotel lobby that do not pretend to get you but still fit neatly over any average-sized ear. But in the woods I found a stillness upon and over and somehow through the earth. We felt our presence echo through the trees. We called out to one another in our warmest indoor voice.


Benjamin Paloff‘s books include the poetry collections And His Orchestra (2015) and The Politics (2011), both from Carnegie Mellon. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Conduit, New American Writing, The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, and others. Twice a fellow of the NEA, he is associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Michigan.


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