Ramadan Rosh Hashana New Moon 1
A word’s an act, and no one can recover it.
Sometimes the thing we name
suddenly becomes…what? A being, almost
human, that the very calling kills”
from Heather McHugh’s “The Magician” in To The Quick
-copied in one of my notebook, among my notes on the social geography and history of New Orleans.
This morning was cold. Cooler than it’s been in a while. Weather is not metaphor. But I make those connections anyway with trails and emotions that have cooled. Scent and heat (and their absence). The marked police car is back on the corner. (What are those expectations about? Yes, to the dangling preposition, my morning affirmation.) Am enjoying this measure of detachment that the cool calls up. And besides, I’m a winter birth. “We think by feeling. What is there to know?” Of course, we also feel by thinking. And to know requires that we somehow touch. Here, I picture Anne Bancroft spelling words (signing) in Patty Duke’s finally understanding palms. First water, then ground, then pump, tree, step.
I’m missing Richard Pryor right now, who could make you laugh through fire; listening to George Carlin; watching replays of Joe Wilson’s “You lie,” President O’s expression, Nancy Pelosi, open-mouthed, behind him; thinking about a cousin, an afternoon at this summer’s end, a bee sting, and anaphylaxis; remembering a wasp’s nest under a sliding bench on the porch of the double shotgun where we lived when I was a girl, the bright pink house across the street; thinking about a wake on an anniversary; buying more Ikea medium-brown bookshelves though I can’t afford a ticket home(?); reading—after George Oppen’s New Collected Poems, his Selected Prose, Daybooks and Papers.
Oppen, in an excerpt from “Daybook 1”:
“Words are a constant enemy: the thing seems to exist because the word does”
(a note that Stephen Cope, the book’s editor, rightly links to Oppen’s “A Language of New York”)
If we change the words, do we change the thing/s? My words here are some measure pretense/defense. What are they killing off? From what are they turning away?
from “A Language of New York”
Words provided one treat them
Which have run mad
In the subways
And of course the institutions
And the banks. If one captures them
One by one proceeding
Carefully they will restore
I hope to meaning
And to sense.
When and where (and how) do words “restore…to meaning and to sense”? Must we capture the words “which have run mad/In the subways/And of course the institutions/And the banks,” along with the banks and institutions that the departed words haunt?
CITIZEN: How often has a display of disdain and disrespect by a member of Congress to the POTUS been met with such loud and celebratory applause and raucous autograph-signing (despite the House’s meager sanction)? To what end is an approximation (or rather description) of the language of contrition coupled with fist-pumping and indignation? To what meaning and to what sense?
PERSON: And how often does a bee sting kill a grown man? How do words (or statistics (for the mathematically inclined)) make sense of that? Description of how the venom travels from the stinger under the skin into the tissue and blood stream; description of the explosive reactions in skin, lungs, throat, nose, gastrointestinal tract. Description of the way all that a body depends on can shut down. (Why didn’t he move out of the bee’s way?) (Online speculation is that anaphylaxis is likely under-reported.) Description of how what can be counted as a couple of minutes expands into what feels like an unendurable amount of time. Description of the simultaneous contraction of those same minutes to a single, radiating point? What can/will/does description (those words captured “One by one proceeding/ /Carefully…”) re/store? And to whom? And how? And what meaning or sense is there?
In Oppen’s poem, is the breath the thing, the hint of matter that matters? The way breath is drawn out through breaks in line and sense that demand pause and expand (and contract) a temporal experience of meaning? How linked are emotional sense and reason?
And what about the links Oppen draws between language and finance?
INSOMINIAC: I’ve been watching (in parts) the Adam Curtis BBC documentary Century of the Self, which charts the evolution of a kind radical individualism alongside the development of modern public relations. The Committee on Public Information, CPI, was established by President Woodrow Wilson, Executive Order 2594, in order to influence public opinion about American intervention in World War I. Early on in the doc, there’s an interview of Edward Bernays. He’s an old man at that point. He sits sweatered at a table, eating and talking about his successes. He explains what he felt after accompanying the President to Paris, where the President was received by masses of the public as a hero: “I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. And propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it. So what I did was to try to find some other words. So we found the words: Council on Public Relations.”
Again, if we change the words, do we change the thing/s?
Tonya M. Foster was born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised in New Orleans. She earned a BA from Newcomb College, Tulane University, and an MFA from the University of Houston. Foster is the author of the poetry collection A Swarm of Bees in High Court (Belladonna*, 2015) and coedited the book Third Mind:...