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Poetry Moment: 'Slit Silence' by Heather Thomas

Heather H. Thomas
Esther Babb
Heather H. Thomas

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

NYC, DC, Shanksville, PA, across the country and across the world—many of us remember where we were when airplanes flew into, or were diverted from, their targets on September 11th, 2001. In her poem “Slit Silence,” poet Heather H. Thomas, who is also a runner, recounts other countries, other runners, other tragic targets.

Heather H. Thomas lives along the Schuylkill River in Reading. Her most recent poetry books are Vortex Street and Blue Ruby. Recognitions include the honorable mentions, Joy Harjo Poetry Prize and Rita Dove Poetry Prize. A Berks County Poet Laureate, she has poems translated into seven languages, including Arabic. Among hundreds of publications, The Wallace Stevens Journal has published her poems about living in poet Wallace Stevens’s Reading birthplace. Heather is professor emerita of English, Kutztown University. She co-edited the poetry journal 6ix with five other Philadelphia poets. Her degrees are from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.

In “Slit Silence,” Heather H. Thomas juxtaposes two runners, two countries, a shooting range, and the knowledge that, during the Bosnian War, individuals timed their runs across a bridge to avoid sniper fire. Using shifting points of view and the language of war, Thomas underscores what separates and unites us. Of the latter she explains, “The poem reminds me now of the attacks on civilians suffering the war in Ukraine. Of how faraway wars seep into us at home.”

Here’s —

Slit Silence

The shooting range marked Danger No Trespassing
             has a target made of old plates.

Shots disturb the birds, ricochet off the ridge,
             separating the air I run through.

In Sarajevo, she timed her run across the bridge
             —fifteen seconds between shots—

the leaves tender on trees not yet burned for fuel.
             Snipers ringing the hills eyed her, eyed

anyone walking home from work or buying bread.
             She counted the seconds on her watch before

running through slit silence, plate of the sun the only
             unbroken thing until she reached the other side.

- - - -

That was “Silt Silence” by Heather Thomas.

Listen for Poetry Moment, with Marjorie Maddox, Monday's during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU.

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Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.