Roughly twenty years ago
I encountered the word "founder".
I was godsmacked. What?
Isn't it flounder? Or is that
The bottom fish with the flat face
That we can't eat anymore?
I was floundering. . . Or was I foundering?
Feeling a little queasy.
I was experiencing a sinking feeling.
I had always, up to that moment
Been very confident about
Using the word flounder as a verb.
But now I cast my net
And instead of flounder
I came up with founder.
What happened to the 'l'?
What happened to my confidence?
What was I to think?
How could I trust myself with words?
They seem like old friends until
They turn on you with a snide,
"Did I ever really know you?"
Were we ever really
Sure, one means "sink"
And one means "struggle",
I know I know, (I know now!)
But surely one can founder
And be doing the same thing.
No! (The answer came down.)
Godsmacked by my native language!
How many times had I misused flounder?
I felt like that sad bottom fish
Weighted down, flattened by
A sea of language
I looked up with my sad flat face
At my surface self fishing in the sun
And then it was if a great cloud passed over
And I was alone at the bottom
In that deep sea-dreamtime
I thought of all the times
That I could have saved myself
From the spell of the Webster Collegiate Dictionary.
Which I studied like an Irish-Celtic monk
In a monastery in the wee hours
Staring at the Latin
Of the Roman Catholic Bible
Until the words caught fire
And burned the Book of Kells into his brain.
Was I poet or magician?
I wasn't sure
As I let myself be hypnotized
By the pseudo-mysticism of the language.
I only knew I had a calling.
Little did I know
That I was being hooked
And reeled in
By a language that has a history
Of filleting imagination,
A language of disconnected words.
I could have saved myself!
I could have learned a Romance language.
Oh Spanish! We could have been
So good together. Imagine
Reading Neruda and Lorca untranslated!
When Lorca wrote:
Con trajes color naranja
I would have known that he was saying,
"With jackets the color of oranges"
What a beautiful world we could have made?
Con trajes color naranja!
Instead of casting my lot
With a language that
Will always elude me,
That seems to enjoy
Feeding my illusions
And then tripping me up royally!
A language that will never make total sense.
Yes, one day, twenty years ago
I stopped walking on water
I went straight down
I sank like a stone.
But I didn't stop writing, thank god,
Even though people must have noticed
There was a change in me.
Maybe it's for the better.
Maybe I was just destined not to don
That jacket that evokes oranges.
(Article changed on Nov 20, 2021 at 9:13 AM EST)