Posts Tagged ‘language’


For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.

—T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”



So let me speak this year in leaf,

and let me speak in stem.

Give me photosynthetic nouns

and algal interjections.

Let my syntax be made of phloem,

let my phonemes be blades of grass.

May all my conjunctions produce oxygen

may my prepositions be moss.

And let me mostly listen

with ears attuned to soil and root

And when I have words, let them be living,

may only the kindest words bear fruit.






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Priscilla the visayan warty pig

has learned to dig with a tool.

She digs with her nose, like all


other pigs, but then she’ll pick

up a stick or a scrap of bark

and use it to dig a hole.


It’s unprecedented—a pig

using a tool. And it gives me hope

that I, too, might evolve to acquire


something new—for instance,

an ability to understand sarcasm—

without which, studies say, I seem naïve.


Sarcasm, experts say, is most used

amongst people we love, despite the fact

that it comes from the Greek,
“to tear off flesh like dogs.”

Even a computer can comprehend

that sarcasm’s a tool for telling


true lies. So why am I so sincere?

Why does my right hemisphere not know

when “yeah, right” really means, “no way?”


Oh Priscilla, you inspiring visayan warty pig,

if you can evolve beyond your nature,

do you think perhaps I might? Yeah, right.



For more information about Priscilla and her science-tool-using prowess, visit https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/06/us/pigs-use-tools-study-scn-trnd/index.html

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And when my dad said,

“You’ve gotta be shitting me,”

he meant, “I love you.”
And when he exclaimed,

“Christ on a bike,”

he meant, “I love you.”

And when he said,
“Turn off the TV,”

he meant, “Turn off the TV.”

And when he said,

“No,” I knew

he meant, “I love you.”

It was, in fact, easy

to translate, though sometimes

I didn’t like the native tongue.

But I felt that love in every word,

the love beyond syntax

love beyond lexicon,

love big enough to hold

us both for a lifetime

and then be passed on.





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with thanks to JT


all day leapfrogging

from known to known to known

missing the feelings between the feelings—

ten thousand mysterious spaces

waiting for us to fall in




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Just as the sun enters the room

and changes the feel, the warmth,

and the power to perceive,


the right word, too,

can be a beam, can shine

into an evening, bring


glimmer, tidings of light,

make even the darkest corners

shine. Yes even one word


can become a prayer,

a gate we pass through

to find ourselves luminous.


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I want to give you words,

as if they might do what

the body can’t do—


as if with verb I could

meet the place in you

that most wants to be touched,


as if with noun I could

know the parts of you

that most want to be known.


I want to give you

the most faithful adjective,

the one that cradles you


before you even realize

that you need to be held—

once I heard a song


written by a man

for another man, a song

that swelled, then took


two steps back,

then swelled again, then

took two steps back


before finally rising

to an unsteady ledge

and my heart


beat outside of my body

and my eyes wept

with tears that were mine and not mine,


and I want to give you words

that will find every ache in you

that longs to be soothed,


words that will seek out

each lonely place, that will find

every branch of you—


not like a wind

that is here and gone, no, more like

the bark that gives everything


to protect you,

the bark that grows as you grow

and takes its shape from you.



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We begin with simple words.

Fat. Ugly. Good. Tall.

Gordo. Feo. Bueno. Alto.

How odd to break the world

into adjectives—

how human this longing

to describe a thing,

as if to explain it is to know it.

Easy. Big. Blonde.

Facil. Grande. Rubio.

I imagine a language

where instead of delineating

how different we are,

it had only shades of sameness.

Would we still find ways

to fight? To judge? To grade

and order and assess?

What if it were only ever a day—

not a good day, not a bad day,

just a day. And the woman—

not a fat woman, not a blonde woman,

just a woman—moved through that day

and met a man. Would they

be happier if they didn’t live

happily ever after, if they just lived,

their hearts not even knowing

you could fill in all that lovely silence

with adjectives and adverbs—

it would rain sometimes.

And the flowers would bloom.

Dinner would be served.

They would look in the mirror and smile.


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Even after everything is said

there is so much left unsaid.

I have measured the nights in stars

and lost track. I struggle to say

something true. When I stop

trying, I notice the how night

comes in and fills my throat.

Though no one can hear it,

it says everything I wish to say.


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Speaking of Love




At the headwaters, the river

is mercilessly clear. Every rock

on the bottom is visible, magnified.


The fish must find shadows

or roots for hiding. I wonder

how it would be to speak so clearly—


a tongue so transparent

we might gaze into each other’s words

and see every color,


even the colors we would hide.

I want that, I say. A gray bird

sings in the spruce tree.


I cannot translate its song,

though it’s only several repeated notes.

This is how it is, sometimes,


even the simplest utterances

are impossible to decipher.

And now thunder. This language


arrives with its charge, its dark verb.

I tell myself I don’t want it.

Then it becomes my greatness.


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Foreign Tongues




We sometimes slip into w-wanguage,

a tongue my son invented, though no longer speaks.


My daughter and I are the two sole speakers

and we often find ourselves saying


What wa wabulous way, or

Womma, wan wi wease wave wore wapples?


The rules are simple.

We break them anyway,


forgetting to w or tripping over

our own expectations of how a word should sound.


In the end, the desire to speak clearly

and to be understood always wins.


Other times we’ll speak in nonsense syllables,

long strings of babble bellowed or crooned.


We’ll wave our hands, as if there is something

really at stake—like the desire to be understood.


Perhaps this is why whatever syllables

she utters, I will eventually echo them back,


stroking her hair, looking her right in the eye,

letting her know for certain


I know exactly what she means.

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