Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

On Language

You, language, that rises
out of quiet air, from where?
How syllable? How syntax?
From whence come gifts
of fricative and nasal,
glide and vowel? From where
these translations of mood
into ooo and thhhh
and mmmmm and ah?
Sweet miracle, language,
the kindness of phonemes
the sweet generosity
of grammar—glorious
as a cherry tree in spring—
that teaches us to say
I am, you are, we have been,
we will be, we are going
to be, we might, we are;
all those truths spilling
from our mouths
that escape the known
like petals that form,
then flutter away
from the bough
into silence.

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and when

the larkspur

petals fall and when

the fall begins to sing

and when the song weaves

through the loss and when

the loss dyes

everything, when

everything is

emptier and emptiness

is whole somehow, when

whole is what a life

does, when life is

what is now, when

now is

ever changing

and changing knows

no end, when

any ending

I might seek is

just another


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I’m now going to dazzle myself with the pluperfect.

            —Jack Ridl



And isn’t it dazzling, the notion

that an action not only began in the past,


but was finished in the past, or,

as they say in Latin, it was perfect.


Not like these leaves, that began

in the past as green flags, but now


transform into gold flame. And we all know

what happens next. No, not like


the boy who once fit in my lap

and now looks me in the eye.


Not like the dream I had for my life

that changed before it could


be achieved. What really ends?

What do our cells not remember?


Even the dead are here in this room,

on the streets, in cafes. We carry


our history with us everywhere

we go, and it wriggles out of its


perfect cage and dances through the ending,

though we thought we’d shut the curtain,


though the director has long since yelled “cut,”

though the audience has already left,


see, here it is, even now, progressive

and as present as these cut sunflowers,


spilling their pollen all over the table,

hardening their seeds into future gold.

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Before I press send, I edit the last sentence so the adverb doesn’t split the infinitive—not that I care for grammar, just that it feels good today to have one small thing I know how to fix.

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Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

            —Elements of Style, Strunk & White



It would be less preferred

to say of the baby quail

that “It did not survive”

when the falcon

went hunting

along the side of the cliff.

Better, say the experts,

to make definite assertions,

“It died.”

It’s rule twelve:

“Put statements

in positive form.”

But what to say

of the inner fight,

how the soul cheers

for the falcon in flight—

all grace and ferocity,

precision, might.

While the heart

can’t help but cheer

for that bumbling chick

brown-striped, blameless,

chirp and slip.

It’s not that the heart

is trying to evade,

not trying to lie,

it just wants

to build a small hope

for us all with the word survive

something to soften the truth—

all things die.


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