In a class on multicultural literature a boy in the front row
says he imagines coconuts falling in my voice.
It’s winter in the midwest. It’s warm in the classroom,
but not like the tropics. I like the hush of snow
but only from behind glass. I wonder, does he
actually know what it sounds like when coconuts
fall to the ground? Their meat is sweet; the water
sweeter. Every part useful beyond itself, beyond the moment
something detached it from its nest, whether by accident
or design. Sugar and oil. Rope and fiber. A husk
with which to buff a wooden floor. Occasionally I have
trouble with some words— where does the accent fall again?
The lapses happen, I think, as an effect of bad timing:
when the mind hasn’t quite expected the gap it must leap over
to get to the other language. And then it’s just there.
Iambic Pen.TA.meter. PEN.ta.meter? Books say
this is the closest approximation to meter, if everyday
human speech were scanned. PRO.so.dy. Pro.SO.dy? I
was amazed to overhear two women in the hallway figure out
what exact part of Canada each was from just from listening
to the way the other spoke. When the British writer
came to teach at my university for a week, everyone
was charmed by her pixie haircut, her obviously
British accent. When I wrote about the river, she said,
I took long, looping walks; I’d stop to look at a bridge,
the architecture, the vegetation. It seemed the perfect
structuring device— you make a digression, you come back
to the main theme. Exactly what I’ve been talking about,
I said triumphantly to my writing class. Only, one student offered,
she said it so much more clearly than you. Would you like the analysis
in French deconstructionist parlance, or postcolonial theory? The builder
leaves but the hammering continues. The flags of the old order continue
to fly, even when, supposedly, they’ve been pulled down. Violent
hierarchies: the signified over the signifier; speech over writing.
The family of dual oppositions eternally replenishing itself.
Watch my mind leap in the open, delighting at what it finds.
The day I earned my graduate degree, four nurses, one
greying accountant, and one policeman from the community
came to stand in presence for every person in my family,
living or dead, that could not be there. At parties,
the accountant and his wife, who were from another
province, liked to ask: How do you say this in your language
up north? Or they told stories of the war, when they crept
out of their bombed homes to forage in the fields at night.
They ate whatever they could find, skin and substance—
The mouth opens in its own efficient way to take in the world.
Overripe bananas. Frogs singing in the ditch after rain.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.