The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart Jack Gilbert
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue
has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.
This year for NaNoWriMo I am writing, How to Leave. So far I don't think it's a novel. I'm not even sure it's a short story. It may be a very long prose poem. And, I'm not sure what it's really about. It usually takes three years for me to figure out what I wrote. What is it about? is always the first question. I like Toni Morrison's response to the meaning of her novels: I leave it to the grad students figure it out.
I like the title of my piece so far.
What I am discovering is that I am writing in code, as if it's dangerous for me to know what I'm writing about.
I love the line in Gilbert's poem that words almost mean what they are supposed to mean. And also, that there are no words for emotions, for what we feel most.