Terry Jones

Stroke & Voices

Terry Jones

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        Forgetful, in a stroke of genius,

you set the dictionary on a shelf in the fridge

where it lay all night in dark wordlessness:

rosetta of crystal, coomb of roots,

the house of language cooling like a hive.

What were you thinking but this new winter?

Participles glinting, nouns to glass, I took it out:

an old terrain under ice, sub-zero of the word

where you traced clawed prints on a page,

found sound snugged and dumb in earth,

                   a world reformed in silence.


        White-cheeked, cold-fingered,

tap it now with a tuning fork, put it to your ear

like the sun’s spring choir; say Corby, Eden,

Gelt Wood, place where spinneys raise letters

of boles, the ice shucked as a crow lifts into blue,

and your lost tongue comes to a litany of fields,

landscape of boundary and dyke, the mud lanes

returning in a shine of names and signs,

a familiar river rising on the grammar of rain.

                  What might it be but the start of thaw?


         Sit with me here, word hoard between us;

sense meltings, warmed breath on air, the whisper

of sibillants turned clear and hasped on the branch;

note hedges and furrows in rime: and there –

do you see it?  Watch it go,

                    a fluent rabbit in a field of snow.


How clear was the sky the day we burned the old dictionaries,

a batch of German-to-English ones?  Dog-eared, mute and parched,

they had lain for a closed decade's unused silence.  Little tombs,

Sprachlos, we carried them like coals to a pit in the garden, stacked

kindling, built a pyre of copies, Bücherverbrennung in the morning. 

Their  tongues of flames changed colour, red becoming violet,

yellow white, as if uncertain of their own identity; pages buckled

like breath,and a ribbon of smoke twisted upwards,hanging undecided

on its next mutation before turning to a dark wing.  Burning

they sputtered, mumbled, murmured, consoling each other,

and I had a sure-fire sense that verbs burned bluer than nouns,

that adjectives gave off most smoke,that language was alight

on a fuse running from word to word -wicks catching, seeds cracking,

Waldbrände in a glow of vowels leaping from one Muttersprache

to other.  As pages crinkled in kinship, we held out our hands

to the heat listening to a squabble of voices claiming origins

that darkened and lit again.  And something echoed in us

where translated in our shadows we watched the last pages writhe,

Geist-like, a flicker of inklings.  Though this may have been illusion.

They were hardly worth keeping:as some forgotten bright-spark said,

'Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.'

Terry Jones

Terry Jones took 1st Prize in the Bridport Poetry Competition in 2011; his first collection, Furious Resonance, was published by Poetry Salzburg that year.  His poems have appeared in The New Statesman, Poetry Review, Agenda, Ambit, The London Magazine, and many other magazines and anthologies. 

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