Redoubtable

Tags

, , , , ,

Yet our hope lies
in the unknown,
in our unknowing.

—Denise Levertov, Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus

From the Old French redoutable, from redouter
(to dread), from re- (again), douter (to doubt, fear). An
acknowledgment, a coming to terms with,

what’s unknown is terrible.

St. Thomas, no doubt, terrible for his doubts,
called Didymus, called Doubting Thomas, the terrible
Didymus, with sight and blind with sight. What is he to you, now—
you, who grope your way about this wounded
world. Your doubt is not exceptional—your doubt is commonplace.
Such is terror,

our terror, each day’s terror, almost a form of boredom, like a dog

licking its wounds, with its tongue rasping
the gape and gouge—the world, whole world, a wound—the wound
with saliva and lysozyme, with spittle and thrombospondin. With spittle,
starting with the eyes, with mud and spittle in the eye and a man saying, “Go

and wash yourself. And see.” Or stick your finger inside and work

it around a bit. Or hesitate, dubitare, waver
between two things, two premises like a dilemma—we live in terror of
what we know, we live in terror of what we do not know.
Duo-, duwo-, tweon,
twin—

and Thomas meaning twin and Didymus, too,

be of two minds in the matter. Two, yes, dubious
minds and one in disbelief. While the others wag
a finger and say, “Keep your hands to yourself, why don’t you, Thomas, and if
you do not mind.” Wiggle not thy finger in, and do, or do not, believe in.

Blessed is he who believes. Blessed is he who is able

to nibble fish. To bear the thrust of our hands, and the repeated
thrust of our unbelief. Or a finger in the fissure. Or the plunge of an arm
to its elbow, in and out. Who is able
to be doubted, himself, redoubtable, then, as now, again and again.


First published in issue 8.2, Spring 2016, of Relief.

Tradition

Tags

, , , , ,

A handing down. To us

from Latin trans-, over (or across or beyond), and dare, to give.
Also, to surrender

through traditus, traditio and traditionem. Down, say the Via Appia, or
the Appian Way, over the Alps and later by way of
French townships. Whose townspeople would say:

tradicion. Which becomes a word of interest out of its antiquity,
its lengthy history as a
doppelganger for treason, a handing over.

Which is handed down and

over the same Latin way—road, route, or Latin roots—except

via an unexpected twist taken by the French: traison.
The French being so persnickety and peculiar that way. Being

Gauls and ghoulish and having the gall, being also somewhat foolish,
to distinguish between up and down, or over and under, or over and

down in this way, as if down the road there isn’t also over the hill. Isn’t also

our own doubts? And how many we aren’t yet over. As if
it is always one or the other and not first
handed over before it is handed down to us

to doubt. Remember

Rahab. Who for her part is always called the harlot.
Letting down those spies from her

Jericho high rise. Down a length of rope,
never mind the length (the length being irrelevant):

and each one hand over hand.

Too, letting down her townsfolk. Handing them over
to the Israelites. Even those
who had admired and kissed her thighs. Or
Judas, called Iscariot, whose betrayal was a kiss.
Whose betrayal was long foretold. Some say decreed,
a handing down through time.

But woe to that man who betrays: for he is often found at the end

of his rope. And betray being betrairbe-, thoroughly, completely,
or surrounded on all sides and given over and over and from hand to hand
across all time. Which is
just down the road, being itself the end of the road.

And so many of us on this road without

so much as a rope: trair, traitor, tradere. And trado, traditio, and so
not so far beyond

“to surrender to.” A handing over of self
to another self, whom himself is handed down and

handed over.


First published July 21, 2016 The Curator.

Stump

Tags

, , , , ,

The country will look like pine and oak forest with every tree cut down—every tree a stump, a huge field of stumps. But there’s a holy seed in those stumps.
— Isaiah 6:13

1. Middle English stumpe; Old German stumph

There’s something to the fact it traces its lineage back
through Saxon and not Norman
dialect. As if there’s only room for stump in a
conquered tongue. Such a hard stop
to it. Like—earh, arwe—an arrow, its sharp point,
through an eye. Or something cut off. Dramatic
like an ear. Or hand. Or tongue.
They say it was the country poor,
the curt, who preserved
such stunted words, as these—words as ‘body,’ bewd, and
‘blood,’ bloud. But also ‘trampled’ on. Presumably
to name and sing their oppression. See stamp.

2. Old English stempan; Old German stampfen

To extinguish a fire by stomping on it—call it stamping:
impressing an unfamiliar countenance on your
countenance—who stammers—stammr,
stamaron—to remember
itself ever more timorously as the axe hammer falls.
Where nothing stands except those standing on
stumps stamping to stop the murmurs. Or embers.
Do you remember. Once you burned inside—
stood erect in a thicket of light, immeasurable as
mirrors turned on mirrors. See step.

3. PIE *stebh-

In grammar school there was a boy named Rex—
a poor soul who stuttered every second syllable.
All of his efforts to talk like a line of tall trees cut down,
dotting his horizon. Even so, he struggled to
step over them. And we struggled to let him—some of us
took pity, helped him finish
his sentences. We told ourselves it was to end his
bouts of misery. To end our own, we laughed—
and laughed—hysterically when he would trip
over a word. Day after day, he took those same hard
stops—imperturbably
(imagine him saying that word)—
now as then, stepping into his agony, never once biting his tongue.


First published in issue 8.2, Spring 2016, of Relief.

Tenuous

Tags

, , , , ,

It’s a bit like a teeter, son, with no
totter, but more of what we are talking about here, a stretching
between two sides. Ridiculous,

I’m sure, but let’s pretend, as in prætendere, to stretch forth, or præ- as in before the stretch, which, in
our case, could be with a stick around a spent fire pit, or on a short
walk around the block, just the two of us—

teneo, tenere, tenui, tentus, the same root which brings to us
soft/tender, as well as to hold/to take. And
what’s more appropriate to father and son than to take
you in my arms to hold you, to take your tender
frame, tendere, to stretch it?

We might call this growing up, kid, but you’ll probably come to know it better
through its Proto-Indo-European as reig- where comes riag and
rack—a form of torture, admittedly of a kind which involves
stretching—a reach. Or a stretch.

For now, let’s say it’s only your eyes that need

lengthening. “Look at the sky.” Lift up your eyes at what’s passing
by—bye and bye—in a pressurized
cabin and reckon, ræcan. Lift your eyes like airfoils.

It’s as good as metaphysics to you,

as the distinction between Dasein and ousia

and all that matters. The dozen acorns you stuff your pockets
with, or a collection of cicada skins. The branches piled and sorted in a
red, rusted wagon. Squirrels, and the sprint of
squirrels. Toadstools, earthworms, unearthed ants.

And if ants, a chance to squat and watch them throng
their eggs, marveling at the ones with wings so far underground.

Why won’t you reach

or, at least, rake the remnant ashes of last night’s fire into
mountain peaks—tightrope the ridge of their spine, then traverse the thinning atmosphere all the way to the pocked cheek of the moon? Instead,

when you settle—making mounds, tents,

hovels—pronounce rather insistently, “It’s for the meerkats.” Or
groundhogs. Or some other animal
which burrows. Odd,

I know, how you always totter down, never stretching your wings—unaware of
wings. Ridiculous

how I reminisce, teetering again on this
seesaw, see-saw—on this ci-ça—thinly veiled,

as this, or that.


First published in issue 10, Winter, of Sundog Lit.

Astrophysics

Tags

, , , , ,

From Greek, astro-, “star” + physis, “nature,” “emergence,” “being,” or “presencing”

Like the birth of a star, crowning once out of a pocket. Put in a pocket
by a youngster enchanted by pockets. Along with
an igneous rock and a green plastic army guy—one cannot be too prepared

to ride off recklessly out of the Horsehead nebula—
kicking up collapsing clouds of dust and interstellar gasses,
riding on the headless horse, heedlessly
holding a hat, let’s say it’s a cowboy hat
lifted skyward. Yelling, Yippee! or Yeehaw! around
the rings of Saturn, cap guns blazing.

Such is light and the movement of light. And the birth of light.

The solar wind is always in its hair, as it flies past many moons,
for many moons: Io, Callisto, Amalthea, the undone
belt of asteroids, the Bellicose
planet, too, discarding its shirt and shoes and hurtling into
the stratosphere. Gathering here. On earth as it is in heaven, naked and
childlike among the crickets at twilight.
Such a humble hour to be singing gospel hymns
to mosquitos and fireflies. And for us—
to gather all of them as stardust. To stuff into the deepening pockets of night.


First published in issue 11, Spring/Summer 2015, of Sugar House Review.

Cleave

Tags

, , , , ,

1. Cleofan — to split

Imagine a dotted line around a neck. Imagine
‘cut here’ written there. And me standing with a meat cleaver.
Now imagine how hard your neck and head would
hold each other. Like a baby cleaves
to a pacifier. Or a toddler, might, laughing,
legs and arms locked about a shin, riding a shoe.

2. Clifian — to adhere

As everything must hold on. As long as it
can. And didn’t you use a ‘paci’ much longer
than was appropriate. No one could break you of it.
Even though we tried to scale its use back to just
the traumatic events and during long
naps. But everything without became so traumatic
to you. Who am I to judge—
I sucked my right forefinger
into the first grade—hiding my whole body at naptime
from my childhood peers—but mostly my lips,
my embarrassment, under a blanket—
lest I be cut to the bone by all the small scalpels
they wielded from their eyes and
force-fed me while we ate sugar cookies, together.
Do you remember when there was no holding on. And no need to.

3. Clofen — divided

Nor do I. And still my fingers grow tired. As when I
stood over your bed while you were sleeping,
fumbling nervously with a pair of scissors,
intending to cut another 1/8 inch from the nipple of your pacifier.
A trick we learned from another equivalently struggling
parent. And how I had such mixed feelings.
Still do. We had to cut it to the nub before you would
set it down for good. For good—
even now I don’t pretend to think that it was

4. Toslifan — sliver

all good; though it was good. There’s this sliver in all things:
the word, itself, serving up such mixed signals—as
everything that cleaves also
cleaves, is a knife’s edge
between them. How you looked so miserable,
pulling the sheets down from your face, waking to each fresh cut.
And though you don’t remember, now,
weeks later in your bed you were so frantic. Looking under
pillows, ‘lovies’ and blankets for it.
I picked you up in my arms to settle you,
the sliver that you were back then—so close to my heart
and head—and thought to myself, as much as said: Hold-on.


First published in issue 11, Spring/Summer 2015, of Sugar House Review.

Incarnation

Tags

, , , , , , ,

For Advent

He became Himself an object for the senses…
 –Athanasius
O taste and see…
 –Psalm 34:8

1. Carnem, caro, carnis

Or carne asada, a kind of word becoming flesh and
a thinly sliced marinated
beef steak—salted, soaked in
lime juice with spices, and
seared off on a grill. The kind you get from
a street vendor in Mexico or a taqueria
in a barrio in the U. S. where
there’s little to no
English spoken and they only accept cash.
Which is boisterous, also. And
so full of common life like
grime, cerveza and La Cucaracha.
And the cooks wear hair nets or
not. And the men are all weathered and
sweaty and wearing their dew rags—there is
no beauty that we should desire any of them. But
nightly, inside, it has the remarkable feel of

2. Carnelevare

a carnival—Old Fr. meaning “to remove
meat,” to cut it away, or
quite literally, carnis + levare, “a raising of
the flesh,” from which we get
the word. As if to say there’s always a curious
inconsistency equally in the pain of being
cut to the bone and in
our own revelry. As if we can’t forget
the bad when there’s
good, the indifferent in importance, sorrow in
the joy of it. Though we try to
separate them. O Lord, we try to grow content
with measured time, but we want
the final, sovereign Yes, and not this
man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We want
what is not yet—this constant what is
and what is to come—the last without
the first, which is a cutting, of sorts: to cut

3. *(S)ker-

short. To cut—to carve. As in a cut of meat:
rib roast, roast turkey or goose
for a Christmas feast. Or a cutting of
God, or Christ taken,
or removed, from God. And what would the butcher
say if asked for a loin of holiest God?
Would he say, “The butchering is still
some time away? Come again Good Friday—” Or, instead,
Tis the season. Try the Lamb. It’s fresh.”
For he was cut off out of the land of the living
God just yesterday.

4. Skera, scheren

And sheared. Which is another kind of cutting.
There are so many kinds:
against the grain, a break, a rug, down
or down to size; from the same cloth,
a wide swath, some slack, the cord, the crap;
to cut to ribbons, a throat, corners; to cut in
or out, to cut the mustard; to cut away or
both ways—so many ways to take
our portion.

Therefore divide Him as a portion

5. *Skaro-, schar

among the many—our share. To share. And find
him, of course, as a
stranger and invite him in; in the Epiphany, yes, but also
in the toys small children drop into
your shoes when you’re not looking and are off
now to something more important, as,
soon, you will be too. In the camaraderie had
in a bad meal: if not the food—at least the spark of
good it still aspired to or in the laughter at each other’s
grimacing faces. In the absences
this side of Ascension: in the
many stricken and afflicted, see all the little
flames hovering around. And in the cuts, see
meat for a feast. To be savored. For today, take. And eat.


First published in issue 89.1, Spring 2015, of Prairie Schooner.

Impeccable

Tags

, , , , ,

Someone who does not stumble, stub a toe, or step on a nail,
if you are to believe the etymologists.
And somehow related to impeach
from the Latin im-, meaning not peachy or not plum,
or not desirable. Like an octopus attack,
which, too, is rooted by the foot—ped-, pes-, octo-ped—
and how hard it would be to walk on eight legs, and
not stub a toe, or step on a nail, or trip over
an irresponsible foot,
so float, angelic, instead of amble along upon the soil.
Soil being impediment to impeccable,
being a kind of impotence,
a kind of impudence—being without shame
but in a negative way, in a way that impedes the way,
and not in the way that is the “without shame”
of impeccability and so nimble and dexterous.
The kind of impediment associated with the wearisomeness
of soil and with—im-,not not but with, and ped, pedis—feet, like
two left feet, so to speak, is
an impediment. Or something
like putting your foot down. Or putting
your foot down and stepping in it, which is to mean
the soil, which is to soil:
to defile, to foul, to wallow, to sully, or simply to
start off on the wrong foot. Which,
if you’re a mollusk, is troublesome enough—being without legs.
Being also without
winged feet, winged hat and caduceus.
And being also of only one foot, and knowing not
if it’s the right or wrong foot. And thus being unable
to stumble, already im-
paired, crawling,
dragging a lonely foot, contrite—radula rooted,
rubbing lovingly the soil—and inching, foot by foot,
toward us.


First published in issue 44.1, Fall 2014, of Phoebe Journal.

Having Spent 12 Days in Disney Delirious I Penned These Haiku

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

1.
Anachronism
after anachronism—
such simulacra.

2.
It squeals like a mouse.
Quacks like a duck. It swims. And
looks truly Goofy.

3.
Where fun is catholic.
And to mention otherwise
makes a heretic.

4.
Balloons, as well as
magic, deflate. Slow. Sometimes.
Suddenly they’ll burst.

5.
Look dad another
line. It’s a party—everyone
is doing lines!

6.
Six days of queues—more
or less—we are crammed down this
gizzard of a goose.

7.
Seven days walking,
seven standing—the Seven
Dwarfs—damn I’m Sleepy.

8.
Screaming babies thick
as crickets unrestricted
by pitch-black hours.

9.
Release more villains—
thin their miserable herd. It
is benevolence.

10.
Dilaudid in the
fanny pack and morphine drip
in the Camelback.

11.
Commiserating
each other’s miseries is
fun for families.

12.
Memory will lapse—
and relapse—into pleasure—
given enough time.

Orientation

Tags

, , , , ,

After a map by Isidore of Seville, c. 622 CE

1.

A loaded word, but just a

word. In simpler times and terms, more about which direction
one faced. Facing correctly,
specifically, eastward—or

oriented—the east, or the Orient. Reoriented

from our contemporary perspective: neither right nor

left, our east or west, but upward or northward on the mappae mundi.
Orientem, oriens—the rising sun, the part of

the sky also where the sun rises every morning. Up, as if to imply
over our heads, and slips behind us in the evening time.
How literal and silly cartographers were

back then. Silly as toddlers. As a toddler boy who asks

a simple question: “When my eyes get bigger and bigger, will

I see the whole. World.”

And his mother and father not knowing what he means,
supposing: See it

as it is. As topsy-turvy, turned upon its head, like those old maps

perhaps, which look remarkably as though they’d been drawn
by toddlers’ hands: Their dependence on such thick lines.

2.

Thick black lines, but no longitude or latitude. Though we give them
a lot of latitude for being so simple-minded, such old men,

to think that the world was flat or carried once on a turtle’s back—

our houses being houdahs, our Oriental carpets spun of
magic flax—or a cosmogonic egg,

cracked, poached, over easy or sunny-side up. Made to order. “Order up.”

Silly as Quetzalcoatl or Pangu—moving heaven and earth for you

while walking on eggshells—calculating
Hubble’s constant, constantly counting it out on

fingers and toes and expanding the poles of this
spheroid cosmos, according to one
ancient Chinese legend, like the ends of a breaking

egg separating—as a Big Bang, and as arcane.

3.

Or just plain arcane. Ancient,
archaic. Archaeo-, meaning olden or

from the beginning, like a rising up, oriri, to rise, or *ergh,

similarly, raise or set in motion or stir.
Stirring, too, a beginning: And styrian,*sturjanan, storan
to scatter or destroy—as much an

end as it is a beginning. As a storm is

also its own refreshment. Or the snake’s consumption of

self is at the same moment a regurgitation of itself:
The Ouroboros, an ancient symbol. Or how the latest found fact of archeology

is simultaneously eschatology:
the last writing being also
the first writing
, as in Alpha and Omega. Which is

why the aboriginal—ab origine, from the beginning,
originalis, origo—ever faced
the east, in the first place. In the first

place, which in the last place is why we find ourselves so disoriented. Turning

bigger and bigger telescopes: And so many suns in the sky.


First published in issue 41.1, Fall/Winter 2014, of Black Warrior Review. This poem received a 2014 Pushcart Prize nomination.