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