Meditation on the Word
Library: like all words, it has a tree in it;
for what is language but a rooted branching
alive on the paths of breath?
It comes from liber
or libr– the inner bark of certain trees
held in Roman tradition to be the earliest,
best material for writing on.
So transmogrified, it would become
the Latin word for book.
Like all made things, its first
body was earth, plain clay deep-
furrowed with cuneiform, shaping
Gilgamesh, our Ur-story
baked onto tablets made stronger
by fires of war and time..
Dug from millennia at Nineveh,
that broken poem is incised
anew by every generation.
The word has also a part of the waters,
papyrus scrolls pressed
five hundred thousand strong at Alexandria,
where Euclid, and Strato the physicist,
Eratosthenes the geographer, scientists
and philosophers, poets and dreamers
gathered, where the books were gathered,
the Nile’s reeds forming for the second time
a cradle for learning and enormous change
the skins of goat and calf would carry on.
After earth and fire, water-reed, animal
skin, tree of origin—the word made
world-flesh likely done—
what breathless Babel rises now,
what immaterial tower?
I’m trying to imagine Spain in this windowless place
whose florescent light is disabused of all shadow.
Surely the rich sun-spill in that country
would be better than money, would hold
close the dark outlines of music and old blood.
There, houses whiter than the baptized would cast
their night-likenesses on the stones of afternoons
full of rough wine and goat-cries.
Someone has told me this potted plant beside me
can live in a room without even a blind-slit of sun
for years. I can’t resist saying light years.
I’m trying to give it better directions—the map
of Spain for instance—instead of the spaceship’s
path to Mars, so that this growing thing may flower
at least once for the sake of the earth’s journey
and the memory of stars.
to A. and N. before it is too late for me to say.
Like the spider’s wheel set in the frame of my kitchen window,
our friendship is fragile and singular but is spun
stronger, relative to steel, than any material we have.
Invisible, it withstands wind and catches the sun,
can vanish into shadow or ignite return. Imperfect
circle of knowledge, of light and shade, storm and dew,
it is the perfect capture of human brevity, yet
stays like memory, the mind’s consummate net.
The world is full of permanence we can’t see.
You who see so beautifully and make it art
know how this applies to all our diligence,
our spinning and keeping. Though connection fray
with willed absence, it holds, accepts, will stay
fine as a hair-trigger.