I walked along my street but it wasn’t mine was it, it was the city fathers named it, marked it on unceded land. I walked along my street but it was a street in my head and made chemical testings of alloys and ores, imaginary assays into OF assai, trial. L exagium, a weighing. Ex out plus agere to drive. The sheep out of the paddock. The demons out of the possessed.
I rummaged and pried into every botherance. I put a case, tested patience, endeavored by rule of thumb and broached irons.
I walked along my street in the sheer gold of leaves on afro-headed trees. Orange. Scarlet. Rust and baked-bean brown. I thought of a character in a novel who reads a dictionary like another character in another novel. Looking for words that open casements to untrammeled spaces outside the tower blocks of cleanly stacked strata in her mind. Words that undo its gridwork of windows, its banks of file drawers, its long hallways of doors to functions and purposes with their closets and type cases, half of each case devoted to capitals.
On the other side of the street a fellow in grubby combat camouflage hoodie and bright orange polyester gym shorts flapping around stork-like legs pushed a baby stroller which did indeed contain a tiny child poking a little fist of tiny fingers out of its yellow blanket.
Word strollers. Sometimes they carry babies. Sometimes wads of clothes, broken umbrellas, plastic tarps, grubby sleeping bags, battered shoes. Sometimes tatters of wind.
Linking the words like bright points of light in the night – which ones do you pick – what do your constellations draw? And who are the dark spaces left behind?
I read the A to Celt volume of the Century Dictionary.
Abbacination: a seemingly innocent sound with its tinctures of baby bassinettes. A box, a jar, a tin on the dictionary shelf ready to eat like so many other boxes tins and jars, so many onions, apples, chicken legs, salmon steaks. But this one has botulism. Though it looks like all the others, on a shelf like all the others.
Abbacination: the act of blinding a person by placing a red hot copper basin close to the eyes. Verb trans. abbacinate. Punishment used in the Middle Ages.
The Bloody Code, 18th C England. 220 offences resulted in death including stealing a horse or stealing 12 pence (a 20th of the weekly wage). Punishers have cut off hands and balls, lashed, beaten or stoned the condemned, nailed living humans on wooden crosses.
I crave innocence. I crave childhood joy. The new day untrodden. Scarlet autumn leaves, the smell of baking bread. The thick felt and sinewy whisper of a coat and scarf. Drumming trickling rain on the roof. Your spring and your day are washed in play, sings Blake in Songs of Innocence.
The bottles of milk.
The rows of children.
The fingerboards of keys.
The grids of streets.
The books of statutes.
The fields of automobiles.
The ledgers of banks.
The dictionaries of words.
Is a poem innocent?
Is a question innocent?
Show the angel how happy a Thing can be, Rilke says, how innocent and ours. As though only things outside us can be innocent. Not tables and chairs, but things like grief, which for a blink takes form, is a thing, then vanishes. And blissfully escapes far beyond the violin. But let that violin give form to this thing rising invisibly from the heart.
Is this innocence? Is that heart not shaped by all its experience?
In Rilke’s tenth Elegy we meet a family of Laments – once a powerful race whose forefathers worked mines high in the mountains. Even now, they tell us, you can still find among humans a polished nugget of primal grief/or a petrified rage from the slag heap of an ancient volcano.
The landscape of Lament is vast, full of pillars and temples and ruined walls built by former princes of Lament, among which blossoming grief is but a small green shrub.
Lisa Robertson recently spoke about the troubadours who nevertheless sang their songs at the time of the Albigensian Crusade launched by Pope Innocent III (what’s left of the word after its use to name him?), a crusade which massacred all 20,000 souls in Béziers in the space of a couple of days. Using swords, not weapons of mass destruction. Kill all: God will know whether they are Catholics or Cathars.
Songs must continue. Troubadours sang laments such as the Descort: a form of unequal parts, hence discordant. Or the Desdansa: a dance for sad occasions. Or three types of Planh: a lament on the death of someone important; a lament for family or friends; a lament for lovers. Alas the troubadours also sang songs egging on the crusades.
And what about Rilke’s family of Laments with its grandmothers and aunts and great great uncles and cousins twice removed? Would a taxonomy help? Is there a different Lament for every kind of loss? The loss of a lover. The loss of a house. The loss of a city. The loss of a homeland. The loss of the bees. The loss of the salmon. The extinction of languages. The end of the ice. The death of the forests. The ruin of oceans. Is there a Lament for the loss of the children?