Not Verb, but Vertigo

          —after Alejandra Pizarnik
A yellow scraping across my skin when
I write the word “sky”
Not sky but scything :
  	to let day be scraped out
        	 by night
I scratched down the word “flower” & felt
   the parts draw away from the tongue.
  	Not gnomon, grown*man, but ghost :
        	to gnaw on the crisp
                    	skin once it’s been stripped
                    	down from the meat
the neat meat
hiding under the table
of the skin’s
right at the juncture where day/night meet
you can see it indicated by the perforated lines
what parts of us that don’t cast a shadow

Copyright © 2018 by Eleni Sikélianòs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem
“‘The sister was not a mister. Was this a surprise. It was.’ So wrote Gertrude Stein. There are all kinds of things to say about those sentences, but on a grammatical level it’s an amazingly succinct way of reminding us that one little letter dramatically changes denotation. I’ve always loved that recombinatory power of the word, but there is also another thing—when a word starts out in a particular or plausible direction and then bifurcates, as if splitting off toward a different, secret path. Alejandra Pizarnik’s ‘not verb but vertigo’ (in Yvette Siegert’s translation) does that. That line made me hyper attentive, as I set pen to paper, to the interior and sensory life of words, so that suddenly sky seemed to be a kind of scraping. Gnomon, a mystery word, comes from the Greek, meaning ‘a carpenter’s rule,’ or, in the plural, ‘the teeth that mark the age of a horse or mule’; it’s related to know, and now means that part of the sundial that casts a shadow: the thing that knows time. It is impossible when reading or saying it not to think of gnome. These are the magical acts of language.”
Eleni Sikelianos