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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.

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