A Minute’s Silence (1998)

Paul Farley

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links On

The singing stops. Each player finds his spot
around the ten-yard circle that until
tonight seemed redundant, there just for show.
The PA asks us to observe the hush.

We find we’re standing in a groundsman’s shoes,
the quiet he must be familiar with
while squeaking chalk-paste up the grassy touch,
or overseeing a private ritual

and scattering the last mortal remains
of a diehard fan beneath each home-end stanchion.
No one keeps a count or checks their watch
so space is opened up. It seems to last

a small eternity — the happy hour
that stretches to three, the toast, the final spin.
I observe the silence sneak through turnstiles
and catch on quick — a bar muffles its pumps;

in function rooms, a wedding reception
freezes still as its own photograph;
an awful bagwash winds down mid-cycle —
a Saturday gridlocked, unaccompanied

by hooters or sirens. Like early audiences
we have left the street to its own devices
to watch the flicking shadow of itself
onscreen, the purring spool somehow apart

from all of this. It leaves the one-way system
and finds less work to do outside of town:
a rookery, light aircraft, and the wind
banging gates or moaning through the lines.

(How still without birdsong. It still guts me
to think of all the havoc wreaked each spring
we combed the hedges outside our estate
and stole the still-warm clutches from each nest;

all that music, blown and set in file
on sawdust in a two-pound biscuit tin,
displayed to rivals in attack formation,
a 4 — 3 — 3 of fowls and passerines.)

Sooner or later silence reaches the coast
and stops just short of getting its feet wet.
There’s something of the Ice Age to all this.
The only sound’s the white noise of the sea

that is all song, all talk, all color, mixed.
Before that whistle bursts a hole and brings
the air rushing back in with arc lighting,
calls for owners of the double parked,

the last verse of “You’ll Never Walk Alone“
(never. . . the sweet silver song of a lark)
listen, to where the shore meets the salt water;
a million tiny licking, chopping sounds:

the dead, the never-born, the locked-out souls
are scratching on the thin shell we have grown
around ourselves. Listen. The afternoon
is dark already, and there is a moon.

Learn more about the language of this poem in the
Oxford English Dictionary:

passerines [passerine]  bagwash  stanchion