The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart 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 all 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 language but a map. What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
How to Love the DeadShe lives, the bird says, and means nothingsilly. She is dead and availablethe fox says, knowing about the spirits.Not the picture at the funeral,not the object of grieving. She is deadand you can have that, he says. If you canlove without politeness or delicacy,the fox says, love her with your wolf heart.As the dead are to be desired.Not the way long marriages are,nothing happening again and again,Not in the woods or in the fields.Not in the cities. The painful love of beingpermanently unhoused. Not the color, but the stain.
The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German Tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers, A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace. And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question The bravery. Say it's not courage. Call it a passion. Would say courage isn't that. Not at its best. It was impossib1e, and with form. They rode in sunlight, Were mangled. But I say courage is not the abnormal. Not the marvelous act. Not Macbeth with fine speeches. The worthless can manage in public, or for the moment. It is too near the whore's heart: the bounty of impulse, And the failure to sustain even small kindness. Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being. Not strangeness, but a leap forward of the same quality. Accomplishment. The even loyalty. But fresh. Not the Prodigal Son, nor Faustus. But Penelope. The thing steady and clear. Then the crescendo. The real form. The culmination. And the exceeding. Not the surprise. The amazed understanding. The marriage, Not the month's rapture. Not the exception. The beauty That is of many days. Steady and clear. It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.
HAPPENING APART FROM WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND IT There is a vividness to eleven years of love because it is over. A clarity of Greece now because I live in Manhattan or New England. If what is happening is part of what’s going on around what’s occurring, it is impossible to know what is truly happening. If love is part of the passion, part of the fine food or the villa on the Mediterranean, it is not clear what the love is. When I was walking in the mountains with the Japanese man and began to hear the water, he said, “What is the sound of the waterfall?” “Silence,” he finally told me. The stillness I did not notice until the sound of water falling made apparent the silence I had been hearing long before. I ask myself what is the sound of women? What is the word for that still thing I have hunted inside them for so long? Deep inside the avalanche of joy, the thing deeper in the dark, and deeper still in the bed where we are lost. Deeper, deeper down where a woman’s heart is holding its breath, where something very far away in that body is becoming something we don’t have a name for.