IAC Commissions: "What the Silence Said" by Marie Howe

Presenting new work for our Grásta series by the poet Marie Howe, set to a score by National Sawdust's Paola Prestini and performed by Howe, guitarist Nels Cline, multi-instrumentalist and director Yuka C. Honda, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.


Grásta: Grace in Uncertainty

“During the lockdown last spring the silence in New York City was unusual and profound. We were wakened by bird song for the first time in memory. Birdsong and sirens. No one on the streets at all. And the silence had some space to speak. 

"This poem is what the silence said to me.”

Presenting new work by poet Marie Howe, set to a score by National Sawdust's Paola Prestini and performed by Howe, Nels Cline (Wilco), Yuka C. Honda (Cibo Matto) and Jeffrey Zeigler (Kronos Quartet).


What the Silence Said 

Do you still believe in borders now ? 

Birds  soar over your maps and walls, and always have. 

You might have watched how the smoke from your own fires 

travelled on wind you couldn’t see 

                                                       wafting over the valley 

and up and over the hills and over the next valley and the next hill. 

Did you not hear the animals howl and sing ? 

Or hear the silence of the animals no longer singing ? 

Now you know  what it is to be afraid.  Do you feel your senses sharpen? 

You think this is a dream?  It is not 

a dream.    You think this is  a theoretical question? 

What do you love more than what you imagine is your singular life? 

The water grows clearer.  The swans settle and float there. 

Are you willing to take your place in the forest again?    to become loam and bark 

to be a leaf falling. from a great height.  to be the worm who eats the leaf 

and the bird who eats the worm?    Look at the sky: are you 

willing to be the sky again? 

                                                        You think this lesson is 

too hard for you    You want the time-out to end.  You want 

to go to the movies as before,  to sit and eat with your friends 

It can end now but not in the way you imagine    You know 

the mind that has been talking to you for so long  the mind that 

can  explain everything?    Don’t listen. 

You were once a citizen of  the country called  I Don’t Know. 

Remember the  burning boat that brought you there?     Climb in.

“What the Silence Said” Written by Marie Howe

Composed by Paola Prestini Performed by Marie HoweNels ClineYuka C. Honda, and Jeffrey Zeigler

Filmed, directed, and edited by Yuka C. Honda Cinematographer Joseph Patrick Conroy Recording engineer Sharif Mekawy

Filmed at National Sawdust, Brooklyn

Commissioned by Irish Arts Center as part of Grásta: Grace in Uncertainty | 2020 – 2021

Irish Arts Center's Grásta commissions series challenged twenty-six artists, reflecting a range of perspectives and disciplines, to create work in response to the idea of finding grace in uncertainty. Click here to learn more.


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