The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart
By Alfred Knopp
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say, God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words get it wrong. We say bread and it means according to which nation. French has no word for home, and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would finally explain why the couples on their tombs are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated, they seemed to be business records. But what if they are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper, as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor. Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts of long-fibered Eqyptian cotton. My love is a hundredpitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are whatmy body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are thisdesire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script is not a language but a map. What we feel most hasno name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.
THE GREAT FIRES: POEMS, 1982-1992 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)