Essay: On Language

The words we use to instill a sense of the ineffable
Carry us on a journey that’s mysterious
As if your car makes a sudden left turn and accelerates
A child in the road leaps into her mother’s embrace
A deer becomes a child and you hit the brakes
The panjandrum in the driver’s seat this befuddled guy
At the wheel of a eighteen-wheeler hurtling down the road.

Language. He sat at the table, head in hands after work
A long day reminiscent of the day before and before
His child on the other side of the table watching him
A man given to gaucherie but driven by ambitions
A hard worker a laborer who came home at night
Greased in paint and sweat, soul tired and hungry.
He washed his arms and face and body with kerosene
Stripped to his underwear, rinsed off with a garden hose.
The boy watches him this brawny bare-chested man
Who looks up sees the child and asks “What the fuck
do you want?” Says “Get out of here before I beat your ass.”

At night in Brooklyn the moon rises above two-family houses.
The boy stretches out on the roof and looks down to the street.
One evening a young woman a girl appears on a nearby rooftop.
She’s barefoot in a white slip with long dark hair to her breasts.
In moonlight the slip is lucent and she hovers as an apparition
Her feet on the gutter, a gargoyle at her toes before she jumps.

Or falls. In the boy’s memory she’s there and then she isn’t.
For the rest of his life he carries this moment with him.
When his father is dying from cancer (warning: don’t wash
With kerosene) he places a hand on his chest to comfort him.
His father looks to the ceiling and says “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!
They’re coming for me!” before he takes a growling last breath.

The boy is an old man now and dreams this night of his own death.
He might prink all day getting ready for nothing or everything.
The girl on the rooftop his father at the table the moon and dying
All there on his tongue in every word he’s ever spoken or put down
On paper or swallowed out of fear or fury. Each syllable a gesture
To the dark to the moonlight to that girl on the rooftop to his father
To the city to the angels coming for us all to the silence in between.

Copyright © 2017 Ed Falco. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.