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Gil McElroy is a poet, independent curator, and freelance art critic. His books include Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art (Gaspereau Press, 2001), Dream Pool Essays (Talonbooks, 2001), and the forthcoming NonZero Definitions (Talonbooks, 2004). “(The Function & Field) Of Speech and Language” originally appeared in Side/Lines: A new Canadian Poetics, edited by rob mclennan (Insomniac Press, 2002). Gil McElroy currently lives in Colborne, Ontario with his wife Heather.

 


(The Function & Field) Of Speech & Language
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1

"An honest man
has fingers, can
add when he tries,
& can peddle vast sums of the butter-cool earth
in spite of gods,
seasons,
& the rain."
Such an amusement makes an early & unjust claim, & I am a man of staring emphasis. My botanic brow is furrowed by the work & wedge of opinions, & it is my hands alone that encounter the whiskers that a man must simplify.

But I will prescribe limits to the rub of my sex, to the little heres & theres of gender & furniture, & I will take my seat upon these things.  I have chair enough.

Let the bells make a day of it.

It is trust keeps a child slumbering on the far side of life's little picnics. I was ignorant of those little puffballs ornamenting the ground. The brushy depths of the waters & muds of privilege had stripped me clean & given clear contour to my heaviness, the high & alpine hump of allergy evicted the old & vertical standards of my breath & its influence.

I find it hard to think of myself as fallen & ripe (though I have a sneaking sympathy for the gravity of the matter), but it is at the navel of things, & it is in the truth of my fingers learning more than mortar from their encounters with the seams, the leaks, & the floods of fact.

Though the facts of our feet daily kiss a ground now cooled & replete with roads, our youth of tides had the singular advantage of vulgar tons of water. At that tucked-in age of periodic lands & seas, the earth-oyster undulated with history.

We have a habit of history. It is the price we pay for coarse glasses of enlargement, a radius recognizable from a distance, &, methinks, our love of novelty.

Intoxicated with the known humours & piled, as they are, upon our loins, our heads maintain a strong sense of the monuments and misgivings we would re-erect but for mere spoonfuls of fresh light.

Sometimes, unaccountable regrets kindle in feverish minutes of an afternoon, only to be plundered for their reckless qualities & coals. One's nostrils are then limited by a smoke one is obliged to admit exists.

Prehistory may so be a perishable thing, but the old landmark now has a slick, stone counterpart & the industrialized aspect of an estranged place. Viewed from a great distance, it & the Moon of much-needed rest magnify all the rubbish that recedes into it.

But to fall back into myself, I will prod out some of the transient facts & surfaces I am supposed of: I have pets beyond bearing, & agitations about the right hats; the politics I harbour  amuse me with misadventure; I feel it fitting to collect wit, & so gift my sisters & cousins with the crocks & fragments I rescue from years of two-reelers; from my mouth comes disbeliefs & the dry rattle of my incurable addiction to language.

My complaints, too, lack any visible evaporation.

I am devoured by doing nothing – I would observe curtains had I no Moon – & so have a visiting sort of life gratified by shrines, carvings in which faces crawl, & those undated graves & marvels remaindered to the wool-covered consumers of meat that we are.

I maintain my pastimes, & the memory of their varying lengths, but there is this one thing for which the words can gather me by my very lapels with their eye-to-eye importances: a story, told me with all the common embroidery & antique perambulations of those organs enticed with indulgent roles in life.

A growing son of absurd old dreamers, & distended by nothing else, I had charmed it, you see, out of a colony of rubes with a concave scheme of goggle-eyed movements & painful nonsense (and there are, I know, muscles in even the eye with far more important functions).

Miles of curvature from the cumulative perils of our geometry, the earth had been, the story goes, of very small creatures burrowing here & thereabouts; vagabond monsters sandwiched between the simple thrust of bread-&-butter nouns, & a language of flat stones & intervening waters. Their needs had been thus deposited about them.

Condemned to digging small holes in a hard world, the copious ores they tripped up provoked eventual outbursts of justifications & time spent in their dense & glowing cookery.

Now, I have cooked all around, & I have a strong sense of the salt demands of appetite & the natural positions of liquids. Courier days melt into middle-aged achievements.  Lives become hard & scorched.  In due time, death.

If other words are used, & now not the literature of that metaphor which chokes me, I give you evidence of creatures & the Sun they solved tolerably well. Above their petrified hills of metal & masonry, the darkness is iron-clad & absolute.

At night, I awaken choking on inertia, & on the ball of that particular Sun I swallowed when young & hungry.

At night, I am engulfed by a thumping.

2
"A small book
of stories, athletic
themes, & fundamentals
is a common requirement
of beautiful
places."
Going to bed in winter, there were nights when I read this quite differently. It had the vocabulary of a flood, but the inclination of a lake (the water there reflecting all the evaporations & dissolutions of experiment).

In a nutshell, it had all the uneven images & beliefs for which we created facts.  The warm pressures of its palate, & its meagre allotments of untragical moods were thus burdens I bore
aloud.

I can quote yet another of its blindnesses:
"The goal-
oriented stone
shall fall because
it shall have
occasion."

Now, we have a taste for klieg lights, evangelists, & wild honey individual to our craving for cause. Had we supernatural followings of free-wheeling little demons, blades of grass & the meaner sorts of bulrushes would everywhere be matched to the brutal lacerations of lightning, or comedy. 

Seized by water, boiled & subdued, this wedlock would be a thing we would drink.

In dissenting kinds of equilibriums, small & magical objects would be tossed into the lonely æther, that they might freshly plane the worn & westward parts of the horizon.

Saturated with the sweet gum of creation, we longed to move in either way. But seeing us thus voting upright into the atmosphere, the plush & skimming wind went about the bitter business of reality. Our tents & banners, we lost the very walls of their use in our encounters with the chariot regions of air, so in this kind of romantic time in life, we reached for the practical conclusions of rope.

The hair of the thing was this: having walls within earshot, we could learn only of the astounding size of silence, & of having chairs enough to dwell within it.

Indeed, there can be an austere & wonderful purity in puttering about such a house.  One only vaguely senses the thin & vaporous nutshell of neighbours, or the fearful abysses that can dimple an afternoon.

Now, I have a taste for hollow kinds of neighbours, & for the housekeeping of superfluous guestchambers.  'Midst this, I can make quick surveys of all the stupider fictions of hygiene, & I can build myself even coffees.

By night, I can be bothered by uneasy beds & sheets, & by the impossible twists of a stomach that crowds the particulars of mine imagination.  I play tangos for my tummy, & perch on the ladder of these, my narcotics.

And my imagination?  I would shed its winds, & the patterning insanity of its rains. But my children pluck at the implements of its fables, & I sweep & clean its filth, & yes, I have heard something about exhaustion.

I was once pretty game, stood up to my shadow.

Probably I did something, broken by all the sunshine.  Now, I keep my music box shut. I fear my thoughts, their boggy ways & muddy, dark-green comparisons, & I border them with little gardens of a despair I tasted once.

Through such terrorisms, the margin of my method is faint but still silvery, & I have a heart that still quivers with atoms.

I can, yes, imagine them all: their reasonable regions of time & space; their nightmares about extrapolations, & the choking geometries of exotic constants & slight departures ...

Being of a height & hairlength, the familiar words I have acquired can fashion myths of such an immutability, but my lower jaw & I share a fear of justifying ourselves that is somewhere relative to the tides. The dice & I try to resolve around it, animated by the one absolute proof of my hands.

I weigh enthusiasms, & the things overturned in the sky, but it is hard, indeed, to keep one's crackpots clean, besieged, as they are, by heavy breaths gone astray, or the bloated air of dust.

The runny world of my calendar hangs in young republics of ragweed, so I am run invisible in those places once enjoyed by my enlargement. An endless chemistry of little blue pills of weather can bring some images back to application, but I am already reduced by those factors of an empty & sterile space that is an overstatement of nothing but a vacuum.

So much is prodigal daughter gets nothing.

The towel of consistence is square of nothing.

A petty stream of language might smooth down all the verbs, but the images in my speech will retain the familiar ambulations of pictures unduly used.

My sisters & cousins, they will continue to talk in sentences. The predicates in which I will be described will remain immune from possibility, for it is a small & cautious language they share, & the vocabulary of views that can be expressed has a decidedly charitable ring.

I will be absorbed into the world this morning, into the nonmusic of its facts & the temperatures that fill its weighty reasons.

I have a right to its certain poisons.

I am a man of formulas.


Poem by Gil McElroy

Building a Background


A

A normal reading of words offers, at best, timid glances down Newtonian
successions of corridors. The cause and effect of letters and
newspapers following one upon the other is an idea devoted to reproduction (or
to what exclamations really look like).

Handfuls of order are measured in such a way. We want a custodian, a
hired perspective, lbs. of absolute and everlasting solidity. (Resilience
is indeed considered a perfectly reasonable way to total ruin.)

In a place so organized, the container of traditional questions,
answers and achievements daily exemplified by names comes to seem
incontrovertible.

But the membrane of metaphor is permeable. First of all, one must fit.


B

The present grammar has rocking chair meanings. The little maelstroms
of poems, wrinkle of conversation and the humpty-dumpty of things.
Entire utterances devour the smaller things that move (the mere sensations
of language, the unpointed vowels, the asylums of syllables . . .),
swallowing each pregnant bulge of creatures.

This world is new and unalloyed, but in any geometry something is
always given.

Here, it is in a diminishing that readers, all with parallax, have the
anatomy to attack: a cone, the base of which is given to the more
widely used dimensions; the apex a point somewhere sudden and intrusive
amongst the very basic clumps correlated outside of the teeth,* letters
typically and tightly buttoned by words.


C

Raw and quivering to the touch, these comparisons (so made) are
invented in a manner I can only describe with all the inadequacy that words,
sailing down without context, can imply: we write, posturing some
arguable ideas; we read, embodying an upright condition.

We have these definitions retained in parallel, but we have the
accidental in common (the same water of escape).

A stone can dive no deeper.



*Though the palate brings us their names.


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