For Paul B. Roth,
author of Fields Below Zero
Iím never speaking in my old language again.
Whenever I spoke, my heart grew teeth
and chewed the lull when my blood cooled
to the rhythm of rain bobbing fern leaves;
and I awoke to a suburb
chock-full of parking lots and liquor stores.
Iím never sleeping in my old language.
Iím never breathing in
my old language; it stunk of shoe-polish,
disinfectants, and tasted of asbestos and humidity.
Long before they provided me with that language;
long before the neon pavilions, the snapping crocodiles
of passports, and stairwells rising and
falling between landings made of water;
long before I assembled stone and milk with syllables
in that language which was also the language
of my grandparents and a village snoring beneath loam,
a village with its supermarkets and electricity
illumining silken swimming pools, and trash;
long before that language became my own as well,
there was a brighter lexicon awaiting me, and I
was like a virtuoso who hissed into a harmonica in order to
compensate for the tango he heard only in his sleep.
And it is arduous to learn another language;
to find another language, your own
language, distinctly yours, and not the kingdomís
with its billboards, vacant lots sour with dog turds,
its dentures for the starving, its massage parlors
for the erotically malnourished, its temples.
Another language, that is, which is not
a language at all, but is like adding
with negative numbers, the palpable absence
an amputee feels in his sleeve, the sucking
intake through a zero,óyet, if you go that way,
you are sieved into a non-language,
a non-word, a logos that is deafening
because it has learned how to say everything
by having nothing to say, the way a stone
throbs with energy, hums with interior blueness so that
you might enter the stone and cusp its vista
of clouds and vines, or slide between the teeth
of the tides that wind themselves around the electricity
of saying nothing,
before proceeding to talk in a new language.
Because there was an angelus interior, a muezzin confidant
who would not let me go deaf, and I arose
to walk streets where I could no longer read the billboards,
and I could no longer count my money: the bills burned
my fingers, and I could no longer bite into polished apples.
At night, my wife opened her legs, urging me,
yet my penis was a bone thumping against bone;
and when I stopped to listen to the seasons change,
I could only hear my lungs rasp for breath.
And I knew it was time I needed a new language.
How terrifying it was to stand at a bar
with a hated friend, in hours soured with tin beer and gossip,
and realize I only had words to barter for a scrap of fruit,
and that there was no blood that tasted sweeter
than the hours when I was blind to myself, snoring;
how maddening it was to stare at a woman,
to feel the knife-blades of my fingers cut into her skin
in search of milk, and yet realize that the semiotics
of skirts, thighs waxed of their faint hair, pink telephones,
were rotten, as her heels clacked into the sunlight and traffic.
No, not a single telephone wire crackled with the shrill
velocity of leaves falling through the weather of ice;
no newspaper spoke of the tumbling shadows
in the exploding barns just outside daily massacres;
no radio song, no graffiti scrawled in black across bus benches,
no movie theater ripe with the burps of soda and rustling
wrappers, no movie screen flickered a word that could encapsulate
the idiocy, the idiotís blabber of my days, freeways,
mini-marts and medical clinics, spiritually obese mechanics.
It was time for a covenant in a parking lot,
from shopping-mall escalators, within motel rooms.
It was time for awakening into desert fish and soft tractors;
for glue and feathers, and seashells which echo the birth of clouds;
gone, the heart growing teeth;
gone, the rooms full of toxic liqueurs;
gone, the porcelain music tinkling from papier-m‚chť moons.
Because I sat down in a corner far from
the latrines filled with thespians and antique collectors,
far from polar bears peeing in stifling cages, and children licking
pink cones, and men beating their bald heads against bathroom tile floors;
I sat down for a minute that slipped between the boulders of one hundred
and came through,
(see how I have come through!),
yes, I came through with a word
urging itself up, always up, through dust, through green stalks,
into a past perpetually present.
And I saw the shape of my own breath.
My fingers turned into ten trees,
and my brow a forest, my arms shovels,
and I began to plant a language, a new language, my own,
the vine and fruit of my crotch,
shadow-scent and mare of a hundred groves galloping
up the waterfall that is hair and cornfields, skin
of the Lady of Seeds who is myself and my language.
And words as heavy as bison, trout words, boulder words,
rain syllables slapping the paving stones
of coal-aged semantics, yet new and my own,
a clay of cooling spring, all, were woven into my new language,
and I raised these words above the billboards of clouds,
and my wife was the woman who glowed beneath her own skin,
and my friends were the syllables that once slipped from my grasp,
and my fingers cupped the pomegranate of each constellation,
and my heart had no teeth, it had hands that embraced
horizon and plantain leaf, and ushered
in the blue raptors that toppled my scarecrow.