Dream of a Language that Speaks

by Michael Palmer

copyright ©Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Michael Palmer

Hello Gozo, here we are,
the spinning world, has

it come this far?
Hammering things, speeching them,

nailing the anthrax
to its copper plate,

matching the object to its name,
the star to its chart.

(The sirens, the howling machines,
are part of the music it seems

just now, and helices of smoke
engulf the astonished eye;

and then our keening selves, Gozo,
whirled between voice and echo.)

So few and so many,
have we come this far?

Sluicing ink onto snow?
I’m tired, Gozo,

tired of the us/not us,
of the factories of blood,

tired of the multiplying suns
and tired of colliding with

the words as they appear
without so much as a “by your leave,”

without so much as a greeting.
The more suns the more dark –

is it not always so –
and in the gathering dark

Ghostly Tall and Ghostly Small
making their small talk

as they pause and they walk
on a path of stones,

as they walk and walk,
skeining their tales,

testing the dust,
higher up they walk –

there’s a city below,
pinpoints of light –

high up they walk,
flicking dianthus, mountain berries,

turk’s-caps with their sticks.
Can you hear me? asks Tall.

Do you hear me? asks Small.
Questions pursuing question.

And they set out their lamp
a      mid the stones.

for Yoshimasu Gozo

From Company of Moths, by Michael Palmer

Notes on the Poem

Our poem of the week has so far presented a selection of individual poems from our Griffin Prize poets. In an effort to highlight shared concerns and create conversations among the many voices of the Griffin poetry archive, we are now launching a curated monthly theme which will feature, every week, a poem from our list of shortlisted authors. Dreams of Language that Speaks by Michael Palmer opens our focus on poems about language. All poems are crafted with words but not all of them explicitly speak to the material they are made of. Palmer invites us to experience a “collision” with words “as they appear.” He writes: “I’m tired, Gozo, tired of the us/not us,       of the factories of blood, tired of the multiplying sun and tired of colliding with the words as they appear” In this collision, the discrepancies between language and what it designates in the material world become apparent. Within these clashes, frictions, and disappointments, writing emerges. The paradox or irony is that all we have is language to express the way language fails us. With words, we dream of letting go of words, of letting language become its own sentient entity: languages that can speak without us. Stay tuned for our next poem on Friday April 16!

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