Voice Road


by William Olsen


Voice like the underside of a leaf,
alone, untold . . . and the psychoanalytical
hemlocks darkening this afternoon,
already heartless memory. It takes
a calm to say let happiness
increase me to silence: yet
somewhat past that I speak.

There was an observation
for it, an observation deck.
And boisterous frogs had
melted, when just last spring. . . .
A recollection looks up, the voice
has to put down the voiceless
book it had been forgetfully reading.


Night voice like the underside of a bat.


Mechanical voice. TWO GALS AND A TRUCK—its crew-cut driver clearing Petersen
Park of storm debris, dragging branches by their ends to her pickup while her dog
runs, and after the door shuts a voice of steel and gasoline opens.


Proper noun voice, illusory diversity, all across Michigan Walt’s Crawlers, here on
Kilcherman’s Christmas Farm a sign nailed to a tree: SEE 10,000 POP BOTTLES.


Journal voice includes “everything”: image, single word, drawings, pensées, grocery
lists, dates, directions, phone numbers without their names, illegibles,
indecipherables. . . .


Voices quoted in sequence, that is, randomly, that is, according to the speaker’s too-
pressed-for-time-to-do-it-any-other-way temperament: “The world is hard on little
things,” Lillian Gish, The Night of the Hunter; “Blessed is the man that walketh not in
the counsel of the almighty,” Psalms 1:1; “To hate one’s native place is more
appalling than suicide,” James Wright. . . .


Sunlight also a voice burning even without its celestial source, draped like a
tablecloth on a lakeside picnic table. Planed and bolted in planked parallels. Picnic
table steel-chained in case the ghosts return and need a place to anguish. Who
almost left all that. Lowercase sunlight on waves alone, voiced continually, voices
connected. All those waves ago. How they catch that burning voice and bring it in.
How oblong leaves, downed, grounded, station it. Trees bent by wind or disease into
question marks that rise out of themselves and answer that voice with crowns of
leaves. Glyphs of algae on trunks, a chickadee like a toy ratchet wrench tightening
silence somewhere . . . behind . . . the past towards which waves crest . . . it sounds
like: one of a million breakable clocks . . . leaves waterwheel from branch to grass in
this self-sorry voice . . . without which I walk around the house looking for glasses
with a robotic voice gone harmlessly berserk. . . .


Yes, one of the two gals from TWO GALS AND A TRUCK exactly at her moment of
awareness of me, waves ago now, calling her dog back, embarrassed for my being
there by her own being or for that matter any being at all.


Taking up voice,
whitecaps beginning out of nowhere . . . memories before you know it, as
as pursued as others,
you my beloved-you,
you in a doorway in a St. Kate’s T-shirt, whorls over your forehead,
unfallen Babylon,
only later to be devastated into the past not by the past but by the supremely
open moment O it needs a little more, a little more, just to speak.


Townes Van Zandt’s voice channeling Fred McDowell on a CD, momently past
posterity, past death, seriously, scouring out of its ravaged self huge vacancies of
space . . . get ready . . . you gotta move.


Unmoving voice of unmoved picnic tables in sunlight same each in all as picnic
tables huddled under a rain shelter, wooden voice chained to the earth, unalarmed
as livestock, I’d like to say of the moment, “I’d read a bit, walk about some beach or
other,” in a voice no less fixed or functional than a table sprayed with leaves . . . I’d
like to voice support of their sodden smell, doors of odor to avenues of order, other,
mother, father . . . I’d like to speak in a voice set like a table with upturned leaves
curled to crone-and-geezer hands of undying memories.


Undying voices of formless forms, unorganizable, constitute the sibyl’s waterwork
voice, pyrotechnical hydromancy dusky sunlit waves uncurling what good are you
. . . you are.


One of those days when a vague voice drapes over the lake, eraser of islands and all
boundaries between fog and haze, sky and lake, white and gray, gray and blue, wind
and waves, suspiration and shudder, inspiration and sigh.


at which moment inside the moment did I begin to invite the sense of feeling
accompanied by friends walking along the heartless tide inside the heart of an
emptiness like this on a beach like this where emptiness washes away ravished by


Could it be SPECIFIC, this voice of absence, this you? Couldn’t I miss you?

he said in a failure of feeling.


All along the open-ended road inside the moment inside the moment

Open barns open shed doors open apple crates open working farmland field
opening inside the opening outside

Down that very road a single voice went so far inside that inside was outside

Moronic arrivals brilliant departures average transpersonals

Outside the selfsame lies the selfsame lives still broke forward


A ghost schooner of a moth crawling along night-black window glass soon to be
defunct come the autumn blues that changing the heavens change all, stripping trees
of their exhibitionist blush then even of their striptease. And when night lifts like the
underside of a dead bat curiosity turns over till certain its demise will exert no rabid
influence and transform you into a posterity so vampirish it is unlivable simply to
contemplate, then it is time to drag one’s self up out of sleep, to haunt by being
haunted by Voice Road, scenic drive all trees and sunlight-sworded open, road no
more steady than this blade of grass the ant travels to the tip of the tip where no tip
is and omniscience (nonexistence) beckons, then crawling safely down its sojourn
onto a diamonded earth and coterminous along the lifeline of this papery
confluence, so many cloudy clouds, so many met and unmet fiends and friends
gathered wherever light of day, hearth, or dead-flame lanterns reveal. Today it’s a
few locals swimming and sunning, two out from shore a bit, looking like a Massacio’s
Adam and Eve that got out of their shame, yes, still, a bit self-conscious, Banished!,
and shorts on him and a suit on her to clothe them for the only way to be in
agreement with love is to agree with design. Which is to say another fellow feeling
seems out of sorts outside of Empire where Voice Road tracks as far back as ice-
scratch, Bar Lake a glacial scion of a far larger glacial body of water, its glacial
clouds, glacial trees, two ice-melt lakes, one a sea, one a jewel, two temporary bodies
temporarily separated by a gracefully interceding arm of dune, and where it is not
bald, wind thrashed grass rooted to such sand-strung influence I would gladly suffer
the joy of succumbing to a finalizing influence of elementalism, to such drop-dead
continuity, such gorgeously amorphous form, such merciful scattering, settling
down, piling, hollowed out at the end of Voice Road, which says we shall be
scattered all over creation. Though otherwise it’s an ordinary road on which to
rejoice crushed gravel, sand, glyphic tire tracks and mud-daubed leaves,
impressions from the passage of lovers, friends, tourists, and locals who would be
obliged to take any such conjuration of passage as this lightly as a grain of sand.

Cover image by Anthony D’Onofrio

About the Author:

William Olsen is an American Poet. He teaches at Western Michigan University. “Voice Road” was first published in Epiphany. It appears in the book Sand Theory published by Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in 2011.