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Charles Harper Webb

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Silent Letters


Treacherous as trap door spiders,
they ambush children's innocence.
"Why is there g h in light? It isn't fair!"
Buddha declared the world illusory
as the p sound in psyche. Sartre
said the same of God from France,
Olympus of silent letters, n'est -ce pas?

Polite conceals an e in the same way
"How are you?" hides "I don't care."
Physics asserts the desk I lean on,
the brush that fluffs my hair,
are only dots that punctuate a nullity
complete as the g sound in gnome,
the c e in Worcestershire.

Passions lurk under the saint's bed,
mute as the end of love.
They glide toward us, yellow eyes
gleaming, hushed as the finality
of hate, malice, snake.
As easily predict the h in lichen,
choral, Lichtenstein,

as laws against throttling rats,
making U-turns on empty streets.
Such nonsense must be memorized.
"Imagine dropkicking a spud,"
Dad said. "If e breaks off
your toe, it spoils your potato."
Like compass needles

pointing north, silent letters
show the power of hidden things.
Voiced by our ancestors,
but heard no more, they nudge
our thoughts toward death,
infinity, our senses' inability
to see the earth as round,

circling the sun in a universe
implacable as "Might Makes Right,"
ineffable as tomorrow's second r,
incomprehensible as imbroglio's g,
the e that finishes inscrutable,
imponderable, immense,
the terrifying k in "I don't know."

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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