Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Losing Track of Language by Amy Clampitt

Losing Track of Language
Amy Clampitt

The train leaps toward Italy, the French Riviera
falls away in the dark, the rails sing dimeter
shifting to trimeter, a galopade to a galliard.
We sit wedged among strangers; whatever
we once knew (it was never much) of each other
falls away with the landscape. Words
fall away, we trade instead in flirting
and cigarettes; we're all rapport with strangers.
The one with the yellow forlock that keeps falling
and being shakin back again, syncopating
the dimeter-trimeter, galopade-into-galliard,
is, it seems, Italian--recently a pilgrim
to the Vaucluse, where Petrarca,
to the noise of waterfalls, measured out
his strixt stanzas, little rooms
for turmoil to grow lucid in, for
change to put on more durable
leaves of bronze, a scapular of marble.

A splutter of pleasure at hearing the name
is all he needs, and he's off
like a racehorse at the Palio--plunging
unbridled into recited cadenzas, three-beat
lines interleaving a liquid pentameter
What are words? They fall away into the fleeing
dark of the French Riviera, as once a shower
of bloom, une pioggia di fior, descended
into the lap of Trecento: her hair
all gold and pearl, the grass still warm
as when she sat there, six centuries
gone by; that squandered heartbeat
(the black plague took her, young) now
fossilized as bronze, as carved laurel.
Whatever is left of her language;
and what is language but breath, leaves,
petals fallen or in the act of falling, pollen
of turmoil that sifts through the fingers?

--E conosce (I ask it to keep the torrent
of words from ending, ever) anche Sappho? Yes,
he knows, he will oblige. The limpid pentameter
gives way to something harsher: diphthongs
condense, take on an edge of bronze. Though
I don't understand a word, what are words? Do these
concern one Timas, led before she was married
(or so one leaf of what's left would have it)
to the dark bedroom of Persephone, for so long
nowhere at home, either here or there, forever
returning and falling back again
into the dark of these ten thousand years?
The train leaps toward Italy; words fall away
through the dark into the dark bedroom
of everything left behind, the unendingness
of things lost track of--of who, of where--
where I'm losing track of language.

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