Stitched Poem of Lost Word


A word came to my mind today in chimes

where wood reeds stood sand tall in pairs

like lovers spun in airy tales of olden times

when hearts sang of heather seed prayers.

But the word flew past as echoes’ remains,

rang void vacuumed sound inside the gaps,

hollows down from which arise sad refrains,

and compressed steely safes, worded traps.

No words came by today in orange branches

only windy specks prickling chapped cheeks;

a sun stole glitter flecks on roofs of mansions

and barren pop songs dribbled old lyric leaks.

Language lost mourns words gone dry before

a poem’s purl through a keyhole’s open door.


photo credit:

Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones… but Call Me a Cunt?

It may have been Christmas time three years ago, when, in the daze that was my shopping misery, I finally reached the cash register after a zombifyingly long wait in a Disneyland-like serpentine line. To my shock and then delight, the young ostensibly female Urban Outfitter employee asking me if I found everything “okay” was sporting a medium-sized (not too small and not overly large) white round button pinned to the left of the top of her left breast with the word in bold black capital letters, “CUNT” printed on it. 

After a bit of an eye widening, I settled into a smirk and complimented her on her pin. She said her pal, the manager, made it for her. I thought it ballsy to wear it in a store, hip as the location is–the anti-mall, a hipster haven–with commercial intent, especially one run by Conservative homophobes from what I recollected reading.

I immediately wanted one. Up to that year, my 51st, I had not encountered the word very often and it had an aura about it, something electric and taboo. The word had never been hurled at me as a weapon til then, though it has been since–by someone I could not have ever guessed would use it against me, yet neither could I have ever imagined that he and I could have ever entered into hideous combat the way he had. 

The initial admixture of discordant discomfort, alarm, and delight was titillating and intriguing. Yes, I understood the neutralizing of such terms through ironic deployment as many other terms have been similarly used:  nigger and queer, to name the two powerhouse terms of oppression that have been turned inside out by the intended targets’ co-opting these weapons. No, one cannot harm another with a word she turns on herself happily, so that the term is deflated, neutralized.

My reaction led me on the usual journey of the philologist (a title one graduate school professor knighted his class of comparative literature students with profoundly):  What is the nature of language?

Interestingly enough, I had this discussion about language with my class just yesterday. We had read Susan Allison’s, “Taking a Reading,” which is a playful essay examining the language of measurement, supposedly a very precise endeavor of linguists long ago. However, in it, Allison wryly asks how it is that her yard, the same word for a measurement of three feet, and that of her childhood–two different sized and located spaces–are both yards. Even the language of precision has so much slippage.

I asked my students:  If we woke up tomorrow and the word for cat was now “dog,” would it matter?  Language is merely a referent to something else, so does it make a difference which sounds and letters we assign to the object in mind, and how do we know the object we have in mind is the same referent for everyone using the same term anyhow? And what of the individual raised without a word for “cat” or any language?  Does a cat exist in absence of a word for it, to recall it to mind and give it form? Pretty abstract for a class during the need-for-a-tea-or-espresso hour.

My point was to consider the arbitrariness of language even as it forms and informs our very existence–makes our world. I am not alone in pondering this phenomenon way too much. Philosophy teems with such obsessing considerations.

But how is it that such words like “cunt” contain all that energy, all that power?  Does calling a man a “dick” have the same effect? No, it does not because of the real life power relations between men and women historically and contemporarily in physical, economical and political disparity of exchange. The magic of the term, however, must be steeped in a rich history of which I am not fully aware because calling a female “womb” or “vagina” or “twat” even does not have the same force or violence in my mind. 

Few females wish to be identified as one part of their bodies, I would imagine, and if they did, it probably would not be their vaginas more than their brains. Though, as the wonderful Betty White, comedic tough ass actress long enduring herself, has astutely joked, the vagina is a pretty damned tough body part for its resilience, flexibility and endurance in light of the beatings it suffers.  

For your viewing pleasure, an entertaining comic strip content of attitudes toward and reactions to the word “cunt” on the Nib entitled “Just a Word,” is offered for discussion. Is it just a word? A weapon? Is it enough to own the word, wear it on a pin to neutralize it? Breeze through the cartoon and weigh in. This inquiring mind wants to know.

Words That Matter (the word remains the thing)

Words That Matter (the words remain the thing)

You speak my language, my native tongue, English. To lay those English sentences down, it takes a subject, verb and object. That is the structure. That is how we make sense of things, and it is important that we do. Otherwise, we would be wallowing in the morass of uncoded conceptions and emotions. We would act almost always in anger. Words that form sentences matter, create ideas, images and bodies, so it is of upper most importance that the words are formed correctly–with precision and conciseness, following a decipherable and familiar pattern. You get that. And it starts with a subject, or often does, the focus of the missive.

We have tossed around many subjects, some drifting on to paper or keyboard, some merely dissipating into air, but so many subjects of sentences, so many sentences. We talk. We write. Subjects such as literacy and love, war and music, health and art, and all range of matters in between pass between us in breath and beamed icons and pictures. Ideas stimulate our minds and bodies, bodies that matter, words that form bodies that matter, not mere objects.

But getting back to subjects we form, the sentences that begin with the subject “I”, meaning “he” or “she”, “you” or “me”, seize attention. My head turns in the direction of the mouth from which the sentence is about to form. Your eyes widen. What does she want? What does he need? The pronoun produces endless possibility, endless speculation about the mere physical presence and perpetuation of life, another life before each of us, breathing, eating, shitting, sexing, as well as the psycho-emotional, loving, hurting, sensing, dying. What will the sentence bring?

The worst one begins, “I have something to tell you,” especially if it begins with the pronoun and then pauses, freeze framed in fear for the speaker and the listener alike. Like running into a loose dog in the park that you hadn’t seen but all of the sudden spy just at the periphery of your previously straight sight on your path, on the way to your destination, you stop, suspended in time for seconds to turn up those senses you rarely perceive, the acute ones ratcheted up to superhuman strength in order to listen to danger in your finger tips or smell fear with your eyes. Will he strike or let me pass? The seconds of ice sculpted figures in time, you on the path and the narrowed eyes of the supposed beast behind the tree, enlarge space and moment, dive into the essence of living, of human. It means life in so far as it is a suspension of time elapsing at the end of which something will be known, the stretch between the idea of something and the knowing of it. But the knowing does not ease the dread. No one wants to die, be wounded, senseless as that is. Not all sentences that begin with foreboding turn out to be perilous.

The sentences that begin with subjects that are merely nouns are the most entertaining. There is no attachment, or at least there doesn’t have to be. To start a sentence with “The war…” is one that divides, gets listeners prepared to be het up. No matter what, there is going to be engagement, disengagement, injury, surrender, and the like, but no one really needs to get hurt, no one with presence of mind to understand that the killing and dying and injustice are out there in space, even if it is occurring in the neighborhood. I am not saying there is no fear. There is. But the words formed, the mere act of forming those words, means the speaker or writer is with an audience and the war is an idea. Both or all are alive. The rest is in forming the right sentences that contain the most effective verbs to produce the right action. You see? Keep pronouns out of the sentence, and the subject is not real, merely notion, possibility or speculation; sometimes it is a call to action.

Unlike Chinese, English is a verb-oriented language, emphasizing states of action as opposed to a noun-oriented language, which water colors states of being across the silken screen of sentience in vertical word pictures. The verbs in English are thought to be the meat of the English sentence, but I disagree. Verbs are action, doing, even when there is very little movement going on, like being, feeling, postulating and sensing. But I believe the sentence’s weight, what matters, is the body of the sentence, the subject, the pronoun or noun, whether proper, common or gerund. Some would say the body is the predicate, which contains the verb, and the head, the direction or focus, is the subject. I disagree. The sentence could begin and end with “I”, “you”, he”, “she” or “it”. To me, those matter. They do. They are. You are not what you do. You matter there as mass of tendons, sinews and neurons; it matters as brick, mortar and steel. It does.

And sentences with objects, those are tricky. What we do with objects–do to object–and who we objectify is problematic. An object can turn a sentence inside out, turn back on itself, whether passively or actively. “I don’t like you” is a sentence with an object, an object that is distanced from the subject by legions and the division is clear, one of thick emotional boundary. Objects are others, polarizing, because objects that are one with us are only thought of as self; however, ordinary objects, the way we think of them every day, every moment of the day, and the way we think of ourselves is as the self–one thing–separate and apart from others, other people and things, other objects. We objectify ourselves and others, as if they were the earth and the sky, the lake and the dock, the murderer and the victim, the heart and the mind–opposites, contingent, contiguous, adjacent–but sometimes a part, never object and subject as one.

The sentence “I don’t like you” does not make sense without the emoter, without the I. Though we sometimes speak like that, cowering before our own emotion…don’t like you. Eliminating the pronoun forces us to silently hear the pronoun that is not uttered, and the speaker or writer elides it perhaps because the emotion is distasteful to the “I” or the “I” is uncomfortable with the anticipated reaction or feelings of the objectified target of the missile. He feels guilt or projects rejection. The missing pronoun lets him off the hook. There is no “I” who dislikes, just the disliking.

But creating objects shows a failure of understanding. There are no objects. Objects should not be standard for sentences. I like that sentences can be formed without objects: I am. He lives. You sleep. Too many sentences need objects; too many people need canvases on which to spray, drip, brush or project their emotions, ideas, and secretions. Imagine a world without objects, only subjects. Where would our minds go?

I think you know the answer. Or if you don’t, you understand the question. We speak the same language, even though we use the same words only to come up with different interpretations, conclusions and impressions. We misunderstand each other often, you creating me with words, forming my body, my needs, my goals, while I do the same for you. I paint you as the man who needs all three of me, and you draw the figure of curvaceous kitten who drinks the milk of many. We are both wrong, abuse language, and are poor artists, poor proofreaders, though fine editors. I am not embarrassed to revise and neither are you, brave enough not to forego failure. So, I misread, misspeak, misstep. We forgive. Sentences there are a plenty to spew, erase, craft and polish. They are our trade and livelihood.

The question of subject and object preoccupies me, though. The manic attempt to merge, to merge and merge and merge, is futile effort like banging your head on concretions when you should be hammocking in abstractions. You say it is the moment, the glimpse of nirvana, but you have reversed it all, turned it inside out and now the verb is all I can think of. To merge is–and you know this–an acknowledgment that we are not one. Can you be matter, stand there before me, naked or clothed, smiling or frowning, eyes rolled back in ecstasy or fury, and not be my Frankenstein? We meet in a pun, the wink of words. Our tongues touch, licking tips of twists of irony or singeing sarcasm. I create your desire, your will to live. I write you. You speak me. Like genies from the bottle we appear limitless, magical and wish-come-true filled, what we have been waiting for. But fantasy is another story. Only we are the stories that we tell, the matter, you writing yours, me mine in poems, conversations and fiction flashes.

It starts with the sentence–subject and verb. Contractions and commas, flow of phrases and long, listing strands of wispy parts of speech dotting the shoreline, shells in the sand, stars in the sky, they precede, intercede and succeed. The space between each shell, each star, each word, is the mystery, the place without object, the place of matter and no matter, no idea of what it could be, what matters. A place no word can contain, no thought can hold is the reason for the unreality of objects. The empty linguistic space is not nirvana nor is it non-space. There are no words. You know that. We speak the same language. Let’s go there.