I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds and you are as far as the deepest root and wound, and I am as far as a train at evening, as far as a whistle you can't hear or remember. You are as far as an unimagined animal who, frightened by everything, never appears. I am as far as cicadas and locusts and you are as far as the cleanest arrow that has sewn the wind to the light on the birch trees. I am as far as the sleep of rivers that stains the deepest sky between clouds, you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory. You are as far as a red-marbled stream where children cut their feet on the stones and cry out. And I am as far as their happy mothers, bleaching new linen on the grass and singing, "You are as far as another life, as far as another life are you." And I am as far as an infinite alphabet made from yellow stars and ice, and you are as far as the nails of the dead man, as far as a sailor can see at midnight when he's drunk and the moon is an empty cup, and I am as far as invention and you are as far as memory. I am as far as the corners of a room where no one has ever spoken, as far as the four lost corners of the earth. And you are as far as the voices of the dumb, as the broken limbs of saints and soldiers, as the scarlet wing of the suicidal blackbird, I am farther and farther away from you. And you are as far as a horse without a rider can run in six years, two months and five days. I am as far as that rider, who rubs his eyes with his blistered hands, who watches a ghost don his jacket and boots and now stands naked in the road. As far as the space between word and word, as the heavy sleep of the perfectly loved and the sirens of wars no one living can remember, as far as this room, where no words have been spoken, you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.
Susan Stewart - 1952-
I had heard the story before
about the two prisoners, alone
in the same cell, and one
gives the other lessons in a language.
Day after day, the pupil studies hard—
what else does he have to do?—and year
after year they practice,
waiting for the hour of release.
They tackle the nouns, the cases, and genders,
the rules for imperatives and conjugations,
but near the end of his sentence, the teacher
suddenly dies and only the pupil
goes back through the gate and into the open
world. He travels to the country of his new
language, fluent, and full of hope.
Yet when he arrives he finds
that the language he speaks is not
the language that is spoken. He has learned
a language one other person knew—its inventor,
his cell-mate and teacher.
And then the other
evening, I heard the story again.
This time the teacher was Gombrowicz, the pupil
was his wife. She had dreamed of learning
Polish and, hour after hour, for years
on end, Gombrowicz had been willing to teach
her a Polish that does not and never
did exist. The man who told
the story would like to marry his girlfriend.
They love to read in bed and between
them speak three languages.
They laughed—at the wife, at Gombrowicz, it wasn’t
clear, and I wasn’t sure that they
themselves knew what was funny.
I wondered why the man had told
the story, and thought of the tricks
enclosure can play. A nod, or silence,
another nod, consent—or not, as a cloud
drifts beyond the scene and the two
stand pointing in different directions
at the very same empty sky.
Even so, there was something
else about the story, like teaching
a stunt to an animal—a four-legged
creature might prance on two legs
or a two-legged creature might
fall onto four.
then, the miscarriage, and before that
the months of waiting: like baskets filled
with bright shapes, the imagination
run wild. And then what arrived:
the event that was nothing, a mistaken idea,
a scrap of charred cloth, the enormous
present folding over the future,
like a wave overtaking
a grain of sand.
There was a myth
I once knew about twins who spoke
a private language, though one
spoke only the truth and the other
only lies. The savior gets mixed
up with the traitor, but the traitor
stays as true to himself as a god.
All night the rain falls here, falls there,
and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.