A Brief History of Babel

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A Brief History of Babel


Borders, windows.
Sound.

Trudging up the steps, I am winded after six flights,
my words smothered in the breathing.

The Gate of God proffers no favors.
When the spirit gives me utterance, what shall I say?

Curiously, no direct link exists between Babel and babble.

A collective aphasia could explain the disruption. One’s
inability to mouth the proper word, another’s
fluency impeded by context.

A stairway terminating in clouds.

Syllable by twisted syllable, dispersed.

Separated in symbols.
And then,
writing.

To see the sunrise from behind a tree, you must face
east: higashi, or, a discrete way of seeing
the structure of language unfold.
Two characters, layered. One
thought. Direction.
Connotation. The sun’s
ascent viewed through branches
as through the frame
of a glassless
window.

Complexity in simplicity.
Or the opposite.

I have no desire to touch heaven, but my tongues reach where they will.

Who can know what we say to God, but God?

And the breeze winding through, carrying fragments.

 

* * *

 

My poem, “A Brief History of Babel,” was drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was subsequently published at Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month celebration in February 2017.

From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Poetry

From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Poetry

In the evening I pour wine to celebrate
another day’s survival. My motions:
up to down, left to right. Glass

from cabinet, wine to mouth.
And then I return to the page.
The character for stone, ishi,

portrays a slope with a stone
at its base, and I take comfort
in knowing that as my knee aches

at the thought of climbing, ishi exists
in descent only. A volcano belches,
producing hi, fire, rising above the

cone, while earth, tsuchi, lies firm
beneath the shoots pushing up,
outward, and ame, rain,

consists of clouds and dotted
lines and the sky above. But if
wind is made of insects and

plums, do I assemble new meaning
without fact or wisdom, form
or assumed inflection, left to

down, up to right? Consider water,
its currents, its logic and needs.
Consider truth. This is how I think.

* * *

“From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Poetry” appeared in Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month celebration in February 2017.

Poem Published in Reservoir

My poem “N Is Its Child” has  been published in Issue 4 of ReservoirI am grateful to editor Caitlin Neely for accepting this piece, which has knocked around a bit over the past four years.

 

Self-Portrait with Shadow

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Self-Portrait with Shadow

Sometimes light reveals our thoughts.
Separate and unequal, we blend.

The predominant sibilant in English,
its pronunciation varies.

Sciaphobia is the fear of shadows. Last
winter the wellhead froze and we

chain-sawed our way to warmth,
synchronized in the fading light.

And which decides the other’s fate?
In the flame I detect new life, a hissing

in the cast iron box. Though ranked only 8th
in frequency of use, more words in English

begin with S, leaving additional questions.
Is hiss the opposite of shh?

The umbra is the darkest part
of the shadow, where light is completely

blocked. Not the serpent, but the bow
and a misperception. Shadows grow

in proportion to the distance
between the object blocking the light

and the projection surface. Resembling
infinity, yet missing the link. Two facets

of one darkness. A faint suggestion. Amphiscians
cast shadows in two directions. Or not at all.

This appeared on the blog in April 2015, and another version appeared in Otoliths in fall of 2013, but it appears that I’m not quite done with it. I’d been exploring our alphabet, tracing letters’ origins from hieroglyphs to present form, and attempting to merge some of those findings with disparate details. One of these days I’ll get back to it…

A Q&A and more successful examples of what I was trying to achieve can be found at Prime Number Magazine:

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3 Poems in Posit: A Journal of Literature and Art

I’m delighted to have three poems appearing in Posit: A Journal of Literature and Art. Many thanks to editor Susan Lewis for taking these oddities.

To get a taste of what Posit is about, read the Editor’s Notes.

Nocturne with a Line from Porchia

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Nocturne with a Line from Porchia

Everything is nothing, but afterwards.
I rise and the moon disturbs the darkness,
revealing symbols, a few stolen words
on the bureau. Tomorrow I’ll express
my gratitude by disappearing be-
fore I’m found, which is to say goodbye
before hello, a paradigm for the
prepossessed. Compton tells us to imply
what’s missing, like Van Gogh or Bill Monroe,
but why listen to the dead before they’ve
stopped speaking? Unfortunately we throw
out the bad with the good, only to save
the worst. I return to bed, and the floor
spins. Nothing is everything, but before.

 

This first appeared in The Blue Hour Magazine in December 2014, and is also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform. The line “Everything is nothing, but afterwards” comes from Antonio Porchia’s Voices, translated by W.S. Merwin. Porchia wrote one book in his lifetime, but what a book it was! Often described as a collection of aphorisms, Voices is so much more – each time I open the book, I find new meaning in old lines.

Vincent

Snow with Moose

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Snow with Moose

Guide to the incremental, to the sifted mass. The Phoenician mem shifted
shapes, but always suggested water.

Moose likely derives from the Algonquian descriptor “he strips away.”

The Japanese character for water, mizu, evokes currents.

Moose are solitary creatures and do not form herds. A bilabial consonant,
M is a primary sound throughout the world.

The prehensile upper lip undresses branches and grabs shoots.

Wavering, I share the lack of definition, of clarity in design and choice.

The sound is prevalent in the words for mother in many unrelated tongues,
from Hindi to Mandarin, Hawaiian to Quechua, and of course English.

Eleven strokes compose the Japanese character for snow.

A smile would reveal no upper front teeth.

Long legs enable adults to manage snow up to three feet deep. Under water,
individual flakes striking the surface sound similar, despite size disparities.

It can also accurately be classified as a mineral.

Solitude to connection, dark on white. The lone traveler.

moose

“Snow with Moose” first appeared here in December 2015.