Rebecca Hoogs: “Autobiography of Silence”

Autobiography of SilenceThis poem is one of the newest poems in my first full-length collection, Self-Storage, and was written in response to a series of photographs. The unifying theme for the photographs (all by different artists) was that they all included people being very, very quiet. I wrote a line for each photograph and compiled the poem that way. The first person voice came early on, though the title came only after revision and is cousin to other poems in the book that are self-portraits written as animals, architectural spaces, or concepts. I included this poem in the book because, even though it felt slightly different stylistically than some of its older colleagues, it fit with one of the themes of the book, which is silence. I’m interested in what we say and don’t say. What we say when we’re not saying what we’re thinking. What secrets we’re not spilling (careful: contents may be hot). What we’re trying to tie the stem of as if that’s somehow sexy. The sore we can’t leave alone. Of course, aren’t all people in all photographs silent? Aren’t all sounds implied? Isn’t every figure in a photograph holding sentences in their mouth that they will never speak? Yes, but the heads in these photographs seemed more silent than usual. Which seemed like a fruitful place to speak from and as. Said’s story has been told often enough. It seemed time to tell the story of the un-. (Rebecca Hoogs)

Rebecca Hoogs’ Self-Storage is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Join her–with Kevin Craft, Rachel Kessler, Sierra Nelson, and Jason Whitmarsh–at Hugo House in Seattle on Thursday, May 30, 2013 for a celebration and reading.

Autobiography of Silence

I was the swinging door giving thanks. I admitted
your garbage was mine. I was a plastic poinsettia
in July. I auditioned for the role of an almost empty auditorium.
I was the pane of glass troubled by a rock.
I was the hands the man clasped behind his back to
approximate contemplation. Here I am
as a Japanese woman and mountain.
Both of us in profile. I am my sister’s brother.
Both girls on a bench with flowers
fat and skinny, stemmy and heavy-headed.
If one is not careful one will fall through
the floor rotted away from the rain.
If one is not careful one will fall through
a bad memory. The Moscow restaurant
where the old couple wasn’t talking;
he was smoking and looking past her; she was
looking down, wishing something to look at
would be invented. I was the unlit twin sconces
above them. Also the desk with the head on it.
And the pillow’s savage nap. My sister’s brother’s wife
with a pouf of wedding springing
from her forehead like a Greek  god.
I divorced the interior from the exterior. I wore
a headscarf to hold my dreams neatly together.
I was your wallpaper and always autumn,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, circa 1983.
Bored couples sat on the feet of my columns
in the Vatican. I was that pink stuffed panda.
The desk in the sea at Crete.
Seven daffodils and two Russian pensioners.
It seems that I was the dance hall always waiting
and sadly it seems the bigger the corsage
the less I was asked. I spoke roses,
but no one came.

Rebecca HoogsRebecca Hoogs is the author of Self-Storage (2013), and a chapbook, Grenade (2005). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Zyzzyva, The Journal, POOL, The Florida Review, and others. She is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Artist Trust of Washington State. She received her M.F.A. in Poetry and an M.A. in English from the University of Washington. She is the Director of Education Programs and curator for the Poetry Series for Seattle Arts & Lectures and is a Co-Director of the summer Creative Writing in Rome program for the University of Washington.

Additional work from Rebecca Hoogs appears in the Fall & Winter 2012-2013 print issue of Poetry Northwest (v7.n2).

photo credit: jcb1976 via photopin cc