The Quiet Boy Noé Who Waited to Speak


He listened, very well.

He could not help himself.


Every sound he heard he remembered,

Making a great library of music inside himself.


He didn’t mean to, but could not help himself.

A sound asks for attention, and he gave it.


He stored much of that noise in his head,

But his knuckles cracked some out when he bent them,


And other body parts did the same.

Noé was full to overflowing with what he heard


And he stored those noises everywhere he could,

Frowning at his noise-leaking knees when he knelt.  


When he listened, he listened slowly 

And people mistook this for simplemindedness.


But it was the opposite. It was instead

That he took great care to hear,


Something so rare in others

They did not recognize it.


He listened quietly but it was as if he was ravenous,

And took the sounds of the world in


As if it were all food, meant just for him.

If noise had calories,


He would have been enormous.

And when Noé read, it was slow as well,


Every paragraph a great garden,

Every book a city.


Though they pretended not to,

Those letters, those words, those exclamation points


All made a sound

Just as sure as if they had been whispered.


Through it all, for years, he could not speak.

He could not open his mouth.


It was a fear he had, a certainty,

That if he did, his voice would let go


Something that mattered—not to others,

But to himself, something that fit


The perfect, building concert inside himself

Made by the rest of the sounds at their work.


They filled him, held him up, and to let go of even one

Would be to falter, to stumble.


Instead, quite wisely he felt, he kept quiet, 

But this only reinforced what people thought of him.


It was well known that, when asked a question, 

He did not answer. People thought the worst.


They could not see inside Noé, hear what was there,

Understand that he could not answer, 


That he was at his work all the time, 

Sorting through the great harvest of his ears—


Clear in his belief 

That the world had something very great to say


And that, when he found it, he would say it 

And give people their turn to listen.


Alberto Ríos’s latest collections of poems are A Small Story About the Sky (2015), The Dangerous Shirt (2009), and The Theater of Night (2007)—this last the winner of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, and all three from Copper Canyon Press. A finalist for the National Book Award in 2002 for The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body and the recipient of the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, Ríos has taught at Arizona State University for over thirty-five years. He is Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU.