Conversation 12: On Hieroglyphs

By Rosmarie Waldrop b. 1935 Rosmarie Waldrop
Champollion fainted, she says, once he had wrested their secret from the hieroglyphs and saw them turn transparent. The serpent no longer with power to strike, but biting its tail. I smell my salts, my packets of words, panicked. I’m no longer sure whether they shape my reality or have too little mass to interact with naked matter. Then they would pass right through the earth as I will in death.

The lightest particles gather the energy, he says, and given their density, outweigh stars. Thought follows thought, the interval calibrated on the space between your legs. Your yes fire, your no the crack of a whip. Well, more a filament breaking in a lightbulb. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge can’t be undone. Only muddied, as by motivation. And the way you thrust out your belly as you walk, with almost shameless indifference, makes a void in the air, but no case for cosmic deceleration.

So even if I despair of plane surfaces, she says, writing, even talking, becomes an act of faith that my bondage to grammar and lexicon is not in vain. That these symbols in their beautiful and hallucinatory nudity blind me only to make me see. There is fire under the smoke. The sun also rises and falls.

We still read at risk, he says, but we don’t need to lard the crocodile with arrows. The picture won’t devour us. It is swallowed in the fluid agreements between gonads and frontal lobe at a rate relative to the dark closing in. Yet two speeds in paroxysm need not mesh. A burning heart, failing to strike while hot, may not save the burning feet.

Rosmarie Waldrop, “Conversation 12: On Hieroglyphs” from Reluctant Gravities. Copyright © 1999 by Rosmarie Waldrop. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Reluctant Gravities (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1999)

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Poet Rosmarie Waldrop b. 1935

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Mythology & Folklore, Language & Linguistics

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Poet, translator, and editor Rosmarie Waldrop has been a forceful presence in American and international poetry for over forty years. Born in Germany in 1935, Waldrop studied literature and musicology at the University of Würzburg and the University of Freiburg before immigrating to the United States in the late 1950s. She received a PhD from the University of Michigan in 1966. While at the University of Michigan, Waldrop . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Mythology & Folklore, Language & Linguistics

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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