Why appropriation is not necessarily the same as mastery

The child wants to know the names of all the herbs and spices on the shelf: those roots floating in a jar like a stunted man treading water, those dried leaves twisted carelessly with twine and left in the kitchen drawer.

Sounds made in a different tongue are often so enchanting— at the start, they are like rain falling, plinking over looped chains in the garden.

Remember that things have names. It is important to know that one thing will not always substitute for another. The beautiful berry leaves a dark stain on the tongue, a body lifeless in its bed.

Remember that a syllable can be slighter than an eyelash. The way it flicks up or down can mean a question, or your chin.

The violinist recounts a fairy tale of a boy kept years with others like him in captivity. They buff the witch’s floors to the sheen of glass, gather the fine amber dust in the air to bake into bread, the dewdrops in the hearts of roses to feed her unslakeable thirst.

Later, trying to remember, the one bewitched says phrases over and over. But there is no one there to catch his mistakes, to help him put the pieces back together.

And you, you’ve been such a good student of that epistemology, of thinking-into-being: don’t you know that spells are made of words?

Remember too: not all saying is true.

I have heard another story: how the Pont de l’Archevêché groans with the weight of hundreds of padlocks, etched with promises made to eternity. What happens when the language of the promise is wrong, when the word for “expensive” is used instead of “love?”

Do you glimpse my original shape beneath this overlay of form? The rain falls and falls over the village. The tailor sews in his shop, the fiddler plays a tune by the fire.

Arrival is recognition, which brings a catch in the throat. We weep when words break through a surface. We weep when we have seen ourselves.


In response to Via Negativa: Rain House.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

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