Coal Dust

To understand language, hold a book upside down
and squint until everything stops making sense.
English looks a lot like gibberish when you flip it
and grip it by its legs

or its tail, like a fish you’ve caught
with your bare hands.

If I stare hard enough, until my vision blurs,
words become an unnavigable fog.
There, I unlearn how to read,
how to pick the stitches out and unravel
words from their meanings –

to unbraid them from each other like hair
and laugh when they blow in the wind behind me.

Maybe literacy is a layer of skin you can shed
to dance again, light as a shadow,
in the fog where words are nothing
and cannot hurt you.

In the fog, you can’t see your hand
when you hold it inches in front of your face.
The mist eats the outline until you can’t even recall
what a human hand looks like
and everything becomes a shape
and everything loses its meaning.

But in reality, you can whisper fuck you, fuck you, fuck you
into a baby’s ear and they will smile up at you
as if you had blessed them.

Sometimes I think language belongs in the dictionary,
not in my head. Surely it would be nice
to forget these words:

mucus and rape and parasite.

But the language, it clings to my fingers
like coal dust.

And like a miner, I go again and again
into that terrible darkness
where it falls upon my face
like a thousand crumbs of earth,
or a thousand kisses.


18 thoughts on “Coal Dust

      1. “Sit in darkness wondering / what your hand looks like / what you are / now.”

        Thank you for your beautiful words. I will spend many nights, I am sure, contemplating what I am now, what I have become, and what this vaguely handlike shape can do.

  1. on my first read i got a bit lost with the various metaphors, but on the second i realized that the various metaphors are examples of the point you are making. (sorry, but i can be so slow.) it’s an interesting, thoughtful piece, rewarding to read and re-read. my favorite stanza, mostly because of the sound: “Maybe literacy is a layer of skin you can shed/ to dance again, light as a shadow,/ in the fog where words are nothing/ and cannot hurt you.” lovely to read that one aloud.

    1. Thank you for this insightful analysis! I was indeed trying to disorient my readers, and I’m glad you enjoyed that effect. I also loved hearing about your favorite stanza. You are an incredibly kind and thoughtful reader, and I am so grateful for your comments.

  2. Held upside down, confusion reigns
    All thoughts are inverted
    I see people walking on the sky
    While the ground is far, far, below
    Until I slip from your grasp
    And fall deep into the ocean of words
    Resting in your lap
    Thrashing like a caught fish
    I resist getting letters caught in my eyes
    I want that coal dust, mined from books
    Smeared across my face
    To remind me of the power of the pen
    Language on a line
    Dangles enticingly in front of me
    Only after I leap for it, do I spy the hook.

    1. This is a wonderful response poem! Make sure some of that coal dust gets in your eyes, and your lungs. It might burn, but it’s a beautiful thing to see and breathe language. Thank you for your words 🙂

Thoughts? I love those.

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