After Robert MacFarlane's The Lost Words
In each word, all words. —Maurice Blanchot
When the Oxford children’s dictionary swapped out fifty nature words—
fern, willow, starling — for broadband and cut-and-paste,
a choreography of café shoulders stayed hunched over electric palms
while text neck replaced the egret’s lithe curve
and a cloche of bluebells timber’d into plasma light.
And when I got off the wrong tram stop in Prague,
I was plunked next to a 17th century plague
cemetery in the median of two busy roads.
A cemetery swept over by a thick sea
of ivy-berry, the ground knee-deep
with softly rounded gravestones
entirely vined over. A few melancholy
angels and crosses peering out
from the swathed tombs,
but otherwise eerily hushed, twice buried.
New words click over the old words
already drained of life
on-brand, price point, influencer, bingeable.
Once I performed outside with a dance troupe
weaving through a clothesline hung with antique white clothes
while a film about fish was projected onto it,
rainbow bubbles darting along smocks and pinafores.
Pinned to browsers, stories keep opening
all around us: windfall apples soften into early frost,
a woman boards a train at 2 a.m. that moves like starlight,
a dictionary is opened in a bombed library
and a press of forget-me-nots fall out of the spine.
Did you know the mosses are amphibious?
The first plants to emerge from the ocean to anchor
the land in soft threads:
a cabin floor
back of a beetle
across the polar cap
in spheres on lakes
against a wound
Growth in nature both palimpsest and erasure
overlaying one image with fragments
of another, allowing what is abandoned
to reveal itself if we commit to looking.
But what is true of mosses is less true of us
the forest people know.
We drape sheets over the clothesline
and it is the canvas of the day,
a storm brewing, cloud-shapes
and the wind’s ripple and bloom.
We drape one word over the other,
thumb-silence over conversation
distraction over attention
sheets of fire over a forest that breathes for all of us
over hundreds of tribes speaking their own languages
but the shapes of the lost words are not discernible.
I walk into class and tinder is left on the chalkboard.
Ah the associative power of a word, I say, hear tinder
and the thin twigs snap in your fingers as you bend toward the circle of logs.
No, a student corrects, it’s Tinder, the online dating site, and the class snaps to life.
More and more I’m longing for
to dance with each one airily
display their textures in the mantle of night
A sentimental person understands narratives have much to do with her.
Maybe a pathos for nostalgia takes aerial root and starts to grow over a person too.
The word nostalgia once so morbid a longing it was considered a disease.
But our wishes are like tinder: the flint and steel of circumstances are continually striking out sparks.
Some mosses live on the clouds’ silver lining alone.
Goblin’s gold glitters in the slant-light
of places which scarcely feel the sun
in strings of angled cells sparkling
like the tiny lights of a far-away city
where your relatives once lived.
There are so many ways to resist.
To be a keeper of the discarded, still alive
to the terroir of language and lay claim over it
is to try to save the sea angel, pied tamarin, pangolin,
shoebill which survived the ice age, red panda, the green-winged macaw
from being buried or displaced or burned to the ground.
A washed-out bridge in the fog still crosses over.
The olm salamander has no eyes because it lives in the dark.
The cold light of the fireflies blink to find each other.