Stone Age

Each section of Figments consists of variations on a theme. The first section, “Of Language,” uses tropes of languages and letters.

I was interested at the time in how language evolved. How did uttered sound first acquire meaning? How did it evolve to signify something other than the music that it made, and how was it refined and abstracted to represent complex ideas and strings of thought? Playing with the tropes of “ages” of human civilization, I had in mind that words first arose from a direct association of sound with action (in this case a violent action).

Stone Age

Imagining the origin of words
one pictures two tribesmen,
friends, standing around a fire.
The first one points to a stone
and sort of grunts. The second
furrows his australoid brow and
repeats the sound. From then on
when either needs a stone he
simply points and goes ongh.

But what need is there for words
between friends? If the two had
the pleasure of each’s company,
enough to know and utter poetry,
what’s the point of words at all
when just the pointing would do?
Who else is a friend but him who
knows my meaning without my
having to say anything at all?

Picture those same friends enemies,
the one having overtaken the other,
cast him on his back in stunning
internecine war, leans poised over,
a hand upraised, with that same stone,
its sharp wedges, its blunt peens,
incanting its name victoriously,
seized by a prophet’s madness.

The last word becoming the first
adopted into the quiver
when it was discovered later
how the next person need only
hear it uttered and that was it
that was the end of it.

Dawn of Man

As I work on my Redwood manuscript, I thought it might be a useful exercise to go back through some of my previous work and see what ideas I can draw from it. I’ve found that the best writing I’ve done is sometimes beyond my immediate apprehension. During the process of writing, I don’t fully understand why or what I was trying to accomplish. I’m always straining the limits of my thought, my technique, my intimations about sound and sense. To go back through and recover something useful might help me find my way through this current creative process.

This is the first poem in my book Figments, a collection of poems written from about 2017-2020.

I love the word figment. It comes from the Latin figmentum, which means “something formed or fashioned.” It’s also related to figura, or “shape.”

Figments are the ephemera of the mind. Illusory figures whose echoes are thoughts and ideas. They exist in the theater of the mind as simulacra generated out of our interactions with the external world. Do we form them ourselves, or are they imposed, impressed upon us?

This poem, and the subsequent poems of the first section, “Of Language,” set up the major themes of the book. Here is the first bubbling up of the physiological process of a mind generating figments of its imagination. The microscopic world of electro-chemical signals in the brain that give rise to visions of reality.

I really like how dreamy the end rhyming is here. I hadn’t even realized until rereading it that I’d managed to link every line together. Again, when we’re in the process of creating, the meaning is often hidden even from the artist.

Dawn of Man

The stickiness of consciousness
the spthlink spthlink of unlinking polymers
emulsifying in soupy darkness

The viscoelastic creep and tear
of a brain remembering where
it was impressed in elastic presence

Measure it by the mucous trail of its laws
and you too will become like soft plastic