Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Fugitive Reading

Yesterday on Howe's Strand, where some people were swimming in the cold sea & colder wind, was a black hole plumbed into a sleepless night. I read in the New Yorker about penobscot, a native american language, and the dictionary Frank Siebert compiled. By the time he had finished there were no fluent speakers of penobscot left. Carol Dana, a penobscot woman who had helped with the dictionary forty years earlier, was one of the last who spoke the language at all; and she was thinking of getting a parrot in order to have someone to talk to. 

The dictionary reigned over a vanished world. There was no english to penobscot section. But if you had something to go on, like, for example, the penobscot for canoe: that which flows lightly upon the water, and: butter is milk grease, lunch is noon eat. Once you learn how to bring your fractious world down to its simplest items: a flower is something bursting forth into the light. Once you retrieve the elements of your life, you can speak penobscot without a dictionary.

I read at arm's length, wanting to sleep but not being warm or cosy enough. A boy not far away on the beach was reading a book; I couldn't see the title. He was one of the ones who braved it into the cold sea.

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