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Jennifer Kronovet

By This Poet

7

With the Boy, Outside

Twigs collect 
by the side of the path.

Wild flowers space 
themselves. Pigeons 

respond instantly to being 
chased. The ground rises

to the tree. If I look 
through the boy—to loss, 

to a future, to else—
nothing is enough 

to hold the ground 
into one place. 

This is your foot,
I say. But people don’t 

talk like that. 
I watch people gather 

their faces into 
thoughts I can’t 

hear. This is the space
between us, I say 

while waving my hands 
to make the distance.

On Translation: Celia Dropkin’s “My Hands” (Yiddish)

She had emigrated to New York when she wrote my hands, and I was in New York again again looking at my hands when I typed my hands. She wrote two little bits of my body on the next line. She had children at this point. I typed the words in English on the next line and didn’t have the boy and then did and brought two little bits up to the first line with my hands. In her time, ideas sat on different lines, but in mine—living against being shown where to rest. Is that me now or now? I decided now. 

*

She wrote that hands are two little bits of my body I’m not ashamed to show, and I said that and then said I’m never ashamed to show. Does not mean never? No. Yes. Never makes the positive of the negative happen. I change my changes using the following excuses: I’m more like her now. I’m more like me now. I’m now, and she was explosively then. 

*


She wrote my hands with fingers, like the branches of coral, and I typed that and then later typed With fingers—the branches of coral and went on shaving off the markers of distance to close the thoughts in me. I used to try to hide my strange hands, but now I want to touch everything I can.

*

She wanted to touch some things she probably shouldn’t have. She wrote a word that was impossible to find in any Yiddish dictionary, but was found in a French one. Fingers were like the thoughts of blank question mark are now the thoughts of a nymphomaniac. She reached and reached outside of her tongue so her hands could reach away from her life in words. I typed nymphomaniac as myself and then again as myself as her and met her there reaching toward her hands.

*

My Hands 

My hands, two little bits
of my body I'm never
ashamed to show. With fingers—
the branches of coral,
fingers—two nests
of white serpents,
fingers—the thoughts
of a nymphomaniac.

Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941)

Whorf worked in insurance, studied the causes of fires in the files: faulty wiring, lack of air spaces, a problem of materials. 

Additional patterns emerged: Workers took great care around gasoline drums, but not around empty gas drums. 

Empty: put your hand in there. Can you feel anything? When the night sky is empty there are still. When the mind is empty there are still. When drums are empty there are still vapors more flammable than gasoline. They are English empty—waiting for the spark. 

Limestone considered safe from fire because of the stone. Watch it burn. Watery can’t catch fire, but it does.

These discoveries become a metaphor about language—whip back to being language language. Language shapes experience and kaboom. We classify instead of swarming in the undifferentiated waters of the unsaid. Drown or the risk of fire. But when the habits of category fail: the burnt structure of there once was speech here—faulty. And paperwork, of course.