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Heraldry and all its lovely language;   
I chose my time there learning
elsewhere, where else than land,   
Landscape, and how to live, in it
is not like, nothing is like, the colors
or the snow, it is not like pearl and   
it is not like the glitter of rainwater
that darkens the bark against which
the occasional bloom-laden branch
might be seen shedding petals. No.
Here is the past: One was once a boy
and read books and could not pronounce
the most engaging words and read
in silence under blankets. Here   
one was not like oneself or was
quiet and wrong and did not know
the words nor how to ask, who
to ask. Nor why. Boy’s books with flags.
Everyone’s born to the language; anyone
can say something. For instance,   
knight banneret, that’s what she called him,   
having no use for him after history,   
she thrust him into the operatic night:   

                                        A woman’s hand rose
above the surface of the lake and caught   
the glistering sword, and slowly   
descended into the boy’s refuge,   
his astonishment, so foreign, so little like home
Knights Baronets—inferior barons formed
by James I in 1611, the titles were sold
and the funds went toward the plantation of Ulster.
For this one would receive the right   
to a Field argent, a sinister hand
couped the wrist gules.

                                           How foreign she was   
when God still cared. This is like a life,   
like a history built fluently, as if
on the innocent, Boy-books and children’s   
crusades: The Reading (al-Korân)
versus The Writing (Scripture).
Isn’t it interesting, east / west, us / them?   
Everyone’s born to something.   

                         You should have feared
the flick of my uncle’s thick wrist and
the boat rides when he took me in those days,   
salt water in the bay and hard slaps against the hull,   
back from a day of horizons, of shrimp nets,   
I would lie on the bow feeling anger against
my whole boy’s body as the engines uttered   
their single syllable for twenty miles back to land,   
a whine more terrible than laughter.

The oral tradition, a voice hard and horrifying.
One might have been a chevalier.
Like someone from the books, was she
beautiful? Was your mother lovely   
and a kind of landscape herself, like snow
in dark woods, not like anything else?

Le plus que lent, my mother would say.
She’d say, like Debussy
she would say these things. Me
and Mom in the kitchen: I should learn
to waltz, it is a pretty thing to do
at home, a thing the body does.
The feet and blood. But mother   
doesn’t dance. I make up memories
but who oh love, you used to   
dance; who’d kiss their hands?

“Chivalric”: Knights Baronets defined by Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Classic Edition, Giving the Derivation, Source or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions and Words that Have a Tale to Tell (Blitz Editions: London, 1990).
Bin Ramke, "Chivalric" from Wake. Copyright © 1999 by Bin Ramke.  Reprinted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
Source: Wake: Poems by Bin Ramke (University of Iowa Press, 1999)

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