How We Listen

“Words save our lives, sometimes.”
Neil Gaiman *

Juan Sisinni

I understand. Lil comes late to the noonday meal at the City Light Mission. She comes from the downtown public library, embraced by words to be selected from the shelves, settling in, her favorite chair cushioned in a quiet corner of the basement reading room. Her voice, when I ask, “How are you today?” and say her name, Lil, the l’s ringing like the after-image of her eyes, her smile soft as her voice, “Blessed, thank you,” words that heal–Rise and walk. Darkness to Light. Despair forgiven.

I understand. Why, in retirement, I have surrounded myself with the dead and the dying, new bookshelves, poetry collections, most by friends I can summon to my slat-backed, green-cushioned rocking chair and laugh at comparing my selection of W. S. Merwin’s Garden Time to Jesus calling his friend from the tomb, “Lazarus, come forth,” in my case to this cubby-hole of a space between the kitchen and the study, a space enclosed by words Lil and I hear–a still, small voice, that thin silence of sadness and joy.

* from Neil Gaiman’s “Acknowledgments” to The Ocean at The End of the Lane, p. 180.