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 Monthcelebration in February 2017.

 

 

Endurance, 1946

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Endurance, 1946

Unaware of the day’s movements, she paints her
reply to the bracelet of light flaring above

the horizon. Tomorrow’s edict is gather,
as in retrieving a sister’s bones in black

rain, reassembling in thought
a smile that could not endure despite

its beauty. I seek a place
of nourishment and find empty bowls.

What is the symbol for peace, for planet?
How do we relinquish the incinerated voice?

Under the vault of ribs lie exiled words, more
bones, and beneath them, relentless darkness.

And whose bodies mingle in this earth?
Whose tongue withers from disuse?

The eight muscles react to separate stimuli,
four to change shape and four to alter position.

Turning, she places the brush on the sill
and opens the window to the breeze.

Exit the light, exit all prayer. Ten strokes
form breath. She does not taste the wind.

Atomic Bomb Dome_03

“Endurance, 1946” first appeared here in January 2015.

 

In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For


tulip

In Response to Nadia’s Misdirected Email, I State Exactly What I Am Looking For

Balance. The ability to stand on one foot, on a tightrope, and juggle AR-15s,
ethics and dollar bills, while chanting the U.S. Constitution, in tongues.

Or good health.

Unweighted dreams.

A mechanism for disagreeing without needing to annihilate the opposition.

Doorways without doors, truth without fear.

A simple tulip.

One word to describe that instant between thought and pulled trigger,
intent and wish, the elevated pulse and sense of diminished space and time.

Sanctuary. Regret. Apology. Respect.

A tonic to the bitterness, a foil to the sweet.

Fitted sheets that fold. Uncommon sense.

Love in the abstract. More bacon. Smiles.

A closet that embraces everything you place in it. Everything.

The means of unfiring guns, of reversing wounds to undamaged flesh,
and rounds to their magazines, full and never used.

Self-organizing drawers. Due process.

Mothers who know only tears of joy.

One peaceful day.

Just one.

lights n sirens

This first appeared on the blog in July 2016. The poem was a response to an email asking a question intended for someone else: “What exactly are you looking for?”

Vesuvius

Vesuvius

When the earth shrugs,
some warnings are better
heeded. A little

smoke, some ash.
A knife point held to the chin.

Why listen at all?
The man in the big house hides in its vastness.
Surrounded, he walks alone.
People speak, but he hears only himself.

Meanwhile,
the mountain
belches

and the birds fly north
seeking firm ground
upon which to land.

* * *

“Vesuvius” was first published in The Big Windows Review in December 2017. Thanks to editor Thomas Zimmerman for accepting this piece.

Dark Rain Ahead, Hummingbird

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Dark Rain Ahead, Hummingbird

The black-chinned hummer buzzes my flowered shirt,
bringing to mind the letter H, its history of an inferior life among

letters, and a Phoenician origin signifying fence.

An aspirate dependent upon others, or a line strung between posts,

even whispered, H does not contain itself.
Disconsolate or annoyed, the bird moves on.

Do names depend upon the power of symbols, or do they power the symbols?

In the 6th century A.D., Priscian disparaged H, saying it existed only to accompany.

Clouds shade the way.
The black-chin extends its grooved tongue at a rate of 15 licks per second.

Alone, the H’s voice is barely audible.

Through the trees, across the crushed rock driveway and beyond the barbed wire

and chain link, I hear deadfall snapping under hooves.
At rest, its heart beats an average of 480 beats per minute.

Modern Greek denies its existence.

Say khet, say honor and where. Say hinge, sigh and horse. Say depth.

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Originally published in Prime Number Magazine, one of my favorite online literary journals, in 2013,  it subsequently appeared here in June 2015.

Gaza

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Gaza

We presume affliction by census,
whereas light

requires no faith.
Is the roofless house a home? When you call
who answers? The vulture

spreads its wings
but remains on post. Shifting,
I note minute of angle, windage. No

regrets, only tension. Breathe in. Exhale.
Again.

***

“Gaza” first appeared here in July, 2014, and is included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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