The Language of History - Poetry by Leslie Nutting (Xorys)

The Savage Leap He worships nature, its fluxing jaws engulf him, its jungular entropy. Like the leopard, he is bitten by his spots. He is plastered with leaves and cannot escape the reticulation of the storm. He hunts constantly even when he is at home. Nothing is accelerated. It happens and so it happens and so it was meant to happen. Not its inevitability but its exigence appalls him. He is one of it. The beast leaps from the floor and finds its ownership of the undergrowth. It is his grandfather. It haunts his strengthening. He cannot distance it, its leonine pelt, its dry, sunny claw. He cannot take its name or mine its heart of gold. There are no things in his forest, only consequences.
He discovers language He hefts the axe. He slams the skull of the beast. He calls it life-in-death. He calls it thought-of-stone. His symbols are his tools. They inch inside his head, freeing themselves from the magnet of his hunger. They turn with the turning world amazing him, the earth revolving in his cranium. This liberty is worse than fear. He rebuilds it, his gut in a fiction. He parts from the sharp he knows, making another, an image that outdoes him, that leaves the stone, the thong. Crooks in a stick of thought and stumbles into words, names that are singular and persistent, shape the minute, breaking the skull again and again. A proposition of gestures that teaches his animal heart the depth of its throat, the terribleness of the utterances by which it might survive.
The Builder His language seeks the impact of his arm. This is its birthright. It is not concerned with truth at all. He hacks the lot, contriving an entry. His purpose is kingly. His words are masterful. They link like numbers, balance like a sword. Either they function or they don't. He tries them for their edge. Fights the gravity of law, the capacity of symbols to repeat, laying the ghosts of appetite and fear. He puzzles his material, a mechanic not a seer, fitting the fulcrum of a better phrase, barking his shins continually on stones. Finally he is killed by an absent syllogism, a brick he doesn't understand.
The First Generation The animals do not speak. They are dumb in the howling void of innocence. The contagion of their days falls on them like a constant rage. They cannot parse it or deny its heat and hunger. We are different and lonely. Netted in the stockade of our vocables we colonise the land. The natives do not understand us but they know we speak and so are hunters too. Up the stubborn rivers we push into the thick heart of the year, which echoes our shouting with the cries of birds, threatening the blind sufficiency of trees and stone. We cannot meet it, and out judgement fails. But our language reasserts itself, establishing cities, triumphing over the possible. The old wall finds its tongue, the syntax of commerce and butchery restates the hills, the plains. Our grammar, finally, is stronger than the brute, flowering in geographic words out of our exiled bones.
Human Anatomy Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny. The process of the individual reiterates the process of the species. He stands erect but only after much grubbing. And, floating in the smooth aetherial womb, he polishes his gills and flippers long before he sprouts his limbs. He has to evolve. It's tough. His larynx grunts before it pitches words. His bones twist. His skull apes history. He howls before he speaks, and grasps before he reaches. He gestures what he can perform, the first jerks of philosophy, stumbles the primary sentence of his splitting world. He crouches and defies. Even in his final physiognomy the axiom unbends, the appendix snubs his gut like a morbid tail.
Man, Primitive His reason pries him loose from nature, his grammar crawls him from the deluge of immediacy. He reifies, thinging his world in consonants, contriving his gestural propositions. He shells his love with touch and recedes into an arch of names. Notions visit the cave. He bestows them, snubbing the rain, filling his children with ideas. He plans his conquest of the continent.
Papa's Waltz He is pinned to the word, inadequate though it is. It is the vertex of his incarnation. Peach-fuzz and chair-backs neither free nor prison him. He is the master of their horn-rimmed definition. They are his surrogates. He raps and bites, ravenous for sensation, delirious for immersion or surcease. It pinches him. He cannot drown in it. Whenever he thinks his symbols maze their sire. He butts in language, stretched in it like his bones, cramped in the pleremous dimension. He creates in zoological dreams. The whisky burns his throat, he knows it. He dances with it, like an aged god, two-stepping its familiar, lethal imagery, hoping it will show him, in its absences, the veins in the leaf of fire.
Abraxas Man is not singular but specific. You inherit your siring. Out of the womb you stumble, and out of the rock, out of the gaseous mass of galaxies, the ape barking his hairy knuckles on the first hammer. You blind and crash your childhood on aeons you forget, but your bones remember. And your bones are you too. And when you die you do not die in time, stupid into some parallel thread of heaven, but out of it, beyond, exceeding the first ape, the first winking of the morphid eye into the delirious void.
The Maestro Each morning is a threat he can't appease, obsessed with the aperture of himself. His monuments are nothing to him, they drift in his wake like gutted thrills. He cannot watch the gulls circling over his leavings. He does not work to feed them. Each day he sits at a new keyboard, pounds a new set of bones. It is dead. He does not know what secret key unbinds it. If it stays morbid he's no cachet to force it. His gift is liquid, risible. His agony is barrenness, turning the bland identical stones along the beach. And if it dances, each sonata that entrances him is itself a lethal breach in life. It is not him. He cannot cash its catching. The singing of his fingers drowns in wire. Each day a new silence, an ominous glory from which he can't retire.
Tiger The tiger is neurotic which confirms the judgement of the cage. His stripes are shabby. He is lackadaisical, or washes himself idly with his huge red tongue, too raw to 'brade away the captive grime. He toes the hardtop boring the limits of his bars, his predation redundant, performing despite himself the role of clown, of lethal idiot. His snarl is a grimace, a curse in a dead language. He never sees flowers now to ignore. He is juxtaposed with children. Who name him, forgetting Eden, with newer myths, his taunted pride, the label on his cell.
Heraclitus The only thing that does not budge is change. Only uncertainty endures. The nature of the world is the nature of fire, and the nature of fire is always changing. Thus Heraclitus, his stubborn tractability. Holed up on the sun-baked coast stinking of summer or pounding the pebbles on the winter beach disdaining the squalid rain that washed his cheeks he did not believe in Plato's ghosts or any such nonsense that might be invented after him. Why should form transcend, ideal, out of all rot and shift, all normal seasoning that tears the heart and punches out the casual gut? The sea tears the pebbles down, and something else, no doubt, the sea, and man is torn down from every pinnacle he grips, and every tearing is separate and particular, a separate quirk, a separate agony, a separate atom flinging off the mass. Fire consumes the world, scorched fire, cold fire. The embers in the hut pull down their roots. The rocks gel and ungel and every possibility is equally unrecognisable. Nothing surprises him. He does not mouth the luxury (he bites his age, his ocean) the blinding comfort of the rational soul.
Lucretius The beast is dogmatic and savage. It does not have the discipline to know when it is beaten. It wraps his gut with hungers out of shape and pines for flesh even in his last extremity. It screams that he is wrong, battening upon the rim of the tub. He distinguishes between man, who has a rational soul, and the animals, which have animal souls. He slits his wrists. The idea of continuity falls between the brute's grunt and the human's word. His ape bleeds out into the water of his dreaming tongue.
The Hero i The Hero is a mystery. He floats his antecedents. Nothing is known of him but facts and legendary births. His power depends on ambiguity, and accordingly the tedium of his learning days is lost. He never mooned in familiar schools or sulked through unproved adolescence. At some point he descended from the wild. His stance announced him. ii The Hero always knows. This, more than his physiognomy, assures him. Nothing takes him by surprise. His muscle is his mode, but certainty his substance. He always provides means for his escape, even in the most impromptu labyrinths. Ambush only threatens to outwit him. He foresees it. His smile declares his step ahead. His death astonishes us, quietly, its impossibility. iii The Hero is an illusionist. (and his illusion sets him apart.) From hats he springs the rabbit of himself, his glacial wisdom, his steel physique. His timing is perfect, the right card always really up his sleeve. This confidence he spins from us numbs our belief in the things he juggles, the sword he gorges. He cannot call out to us through the curtain. He is fraught with magic. iv Does the Hero fool himself? Is his mirror placid? Stepping through its gateway is he sure the ground will give? Vanquishing his sleeping, does he wake to destiny, his image, his assertion, the perpetual middle-age of the legend that absorbs him. v The Hero is mortal. The flesh sticks in his craw. His ablutions are necessary and his wounds heal slowly and are painful. This is the stubbornness he has to hide. Finally if the audience doesn't warm to him he must resort to comedy, or pathos, like any other act. vi The Hero builds a myth out of his skill. Though he is beaten raw and no one can still believe he cannot fail, his tics are history and his bedroom kinks are bartered on the street, still he performs, his expertise dances the lethal hour, precise with singing combat, a gavotte of arms that is not his or ours but the hymn of victory in motion we hang by in the dreaming war.
Four Modes of Language i He delays. He does not cry out when he sees the rock sailing into his categorical bay. He does not scream when he is plunged feet down into the icy waters of his dream. Only afterwards, cast up on the sand, sniffling for respiration, he utters a small explanatory murmur. ii He separates the object from its grunt, making a name of it. The object is outside of him, it accedes, burying him in its singular presence, playing his finger tips like a piano. The name is torn off, it floats in his vocal chords, waiting for another improvisation to possess. iii He prolongs, his diatribe expanding his attention, discoursing on the memory of bones. He is excited by the thrum that he recalls. His phantoms dance for him their siren song lost behind the glazing of his eyes that stare unseeing at his waking ocean. iv He internalises, making an epic of his history. He creates an island populated by his words, where the antics of the jungle are experimental, the same tiger never leaps in the same way twice. v In all of this, in these four steps, he dies and is reborn, encompassing death into his being. He permits the longing of his song and the invention of his isolation. Now, when he utters his final symbol, it is not a call to act, but another mystery, another dream. He has acquired the capacity of fiction, and no one knows for sure the sea that stings him, its alarm. They only know he dreams, and in his dreaming drowns.

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