Posts Tagged ‘language’

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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One Attempt

like trying to contain the sky
in the word blue—
saying I miss you

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Eight Months Later

Sometimes when I’m buying glue
at the hardware store or looking at books
in the library, someone will come and,
with so much love, invite me to dive with them
into the eddies of articulate grief. Or sometimes,
also with love, they’ll say something neutral, like,
“Nice weather,” and I’ll nod, though meanwhile
we wade in thick currents of all that goes unspoken.  
Every day, I leave for a time the world of language.
I walk in the woods or along the red cliffs
where the only conversationalists
are the creek and the squirrel, the crow
and the magpie, the sharp scent of spruce,
and the burgeoning leaves.
I let myself speak only in listening.
The grief listens with me. Hours go by.
Words find us soon enough.

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I LOVED this conversation with Anne Marie Vivienne on her podcast Breakfast Poetry, in which we talk about several of my favorite poems (St. Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell and In the Belly of the Whale by Dan Albergotti) and narrating our own lives, meeting what life brings to our door, and finding joy in the devotion of language. It’s available for your listening here

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Clean Slate

It’s almost always sunny just before
it snows—just before the sky turns grey
then meets the earth in giant swaths
of blue turned clouds turned snow turned drift,
and haven’t you sometimes wanted
to do that, too—to shift in an instant
from warm to cool, from blue to gray,
to know yourself as the opposite
of what you are, just as a day does,
an entirely new syntax unspooling
in swirling verbs and whirling predicates
so complex you forget who the subject is—
haven’t you wanted to flurry, to blizzard,
to white out until there were no tracks
like sentences left for you to follow?

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When I say Happy New Year,
I hear my grandmother’s voice
inside my voice, the way
she slapped the first syllable,
the way silence hung for a moment
before she finished the rest of the phrase.
HAP-py New Year!
Each time I say the words, she
is so alive in that moment—
the syllables themselves
wear her bright red nails,
her signature updo
and her rhinestone earrings.
HAP-py New Year!
I sing out again and again,
loving how she enters
each conversation this day.
There are small ways
to bring our beloveds back,
little rituals so strong they
defy the loss, so strong
that each time we do them
we become more and more
who we love. Her voice
becomes my voice and her
joy becomes my joy.
I don’t have to look in the mirror
to see she is here, her smile
my smile curving up from the inside.

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Stepping off the edge
I began to learn falling
as I would learn to speak
another tongue—
confused at first,
but now the thrill
as I notice
how the new
airy syntax
and unbound grammar
have changed
about the way I think,
about the way
I love.

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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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