Installment 25 features two poems by Lea Graham: excursions into meaning that meander toward etymology, history, memory, and association. “Wend” and “Calque” travel the back roads and back channels of language, constantly surprising and rerouting expectations in the process.
Wend: to direct one’s course; to travel, proceed
Forty years later in Mayflower, Arkansas,
I wake from the dream
where I am forever riding the Greyhound
around hairpins, a car-sick kid
next to a chain-smoking crone
draped in a pink afghan.
I’m eager for the mountain’s
descent where the river
begins to bottom out
this drive, but stuck
for always in Winslow
with its signs for Falling Rock
and Scenic Views. My brothers
doze across the aisle on our way
to my father’s weekend:
Kin to wind and wander. “To follow a series of curves and turns.” Began as wendan, related to changing direction, family to the Old English windan “to twist.” Twisted into various meanings over years: “to come about,” “to depart,” “to change,” and “betake”—since then, rambled into obscurity. But its use related to moving along a course has lent the verb go its past tense went.
Wen: a tumor or swelling or excrescence / on the body, a horse or tree. / What one letter / turns.
At sixteen, I traveled the mountain
in my stepfather’s canary-yellow
Karmann-Ghia. Its radio
removed and the cold blowing
through the hole where it
had been as we drove—my brothers
and I, again, the return
through snow with a quilt
across our laps, the stick shift
translated adventure, control.
We passed a sack of carrots,
some granola amongst ourselves.
When I think of this now—
my parents’ trust in my navigation
skills those years ago—I think no.
It was simple: They hated to see
the other who recalled failure.
What the other adults I knew
Wand. For the Scots meant flexible, bend-able. A slim branch; a pointer. Down south, understood as rigid. /Its movement spelled /what came to pass.
Wonder— and its proximity to wander. /A murmuration of starlings leading us out into a field/ an opening / to gaze up / or fixate on these bluets in the corner of a yard/ the frog perched at drain; / a tortoise, palm-sized, retracting among leaves—
July’s press that year:
alto: lush, haunted—
it’s just the radio,
skin and vinyl sealed by sweat,
that red Chevrolet.
Wan: A word I learned from my mother, who said it like “wand,” as if she just forgot the “d.” / Pale. Forlorn. / A physical sign of grief. / In poetry to the sea /
or other waters: / lacking light and luster, dark-hued.
Wind: (vb.) Outside San Cristobal de las Casas that June, / the Pan American without cars—not even cabs. /Miles we walked, / seven women dragging suitcases/ past the leñadores in their near-white serapes, machetes, their silent waiting, / a strike we stumbled onto/ through, / that road to La Mesilla—hairpinned in memory.
My mother tells me
later how she waited
outside the cigarette-thin
apartment door for him
to finish. To just come home.
End: As in static noun, opposite of go, hie, journey and pass, travel, fare, proceed, push on…./ “in the end, at the ending / everything retreats; farewell/ daylight and all your objects….”
There. I’ve tripped the past.
An accident of motion
on my way to Interstate I,
that old Shame Highway, or that mean
and winding Route Isolation—
Last night in the yeast-smell
and belled light of our kitchen,
my husband says:
Who has any place?
is always gone
Calque (n.), A loan translation
… For Mark
A word I learn
when looking up
while driving I-65
Nashville where we
site Flealand &
Flea World proclaimed
by billboard in
fields we pass, a doubling,
a copy, a linguistic
of the fleas—
at Clingnancourt, perhaps:
bit of underground,
the Paris…to haggle for…
A place you knew
from your days sleeping
in bedbug rooms, above
Shakespeare & Company
while I chased congüeros
searched out auguries
on El tracks, entrails
of a mysterizing
future. Our practice lives,
you call them, lives translated
into this speeding now—
Lea Graham is the author of the forthcoming book, From the Hotel Vernon (Salmon Press, 2019), the chapbook, This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (Apt. 9 Press, 2016) and the poetry book, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011). She is an associate professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY and a native of Northwest Arkansas.