new zealand electronic poetry centre

Fiona Farrell

online works

The Inhabited Initial
These poems are intended as meditations on the miracle of the western alphabet which had its origins in early Semitic pictograms.

A aleph: an ox
She draws the others after
dees worruf gnol eht nwod
dropped in dark trenches.
reh fo enil eht wolof eW
going to the fence and
.toof yvaeh yb toof kcab.
B beth: a house
This bivvy shelters all
our gods and treasures.
We huddle reading the
calligraphy of fitful
flame, in our tumbled
dreaming the murmur of
mothers like blood round
the belly and beyond the
open window the grunt and
howl of things we cannot
C gimel: a camel
It sways toward us sewn in a
secret pocket with strange
seeds and stones. A cup with
a foreign cut carried across
dry land.
D daleth: a door
You open it and everything
pours in: new stuff, old
stuff, some for the dump.
You shut it fast, but there’s
always some small fist
hammering at the other side.
E he: lo!
Behold! The Word is striding
high in new shoes! The mark
of its heel is stone. The mark
of its toe is feather and the
skin of unborn lambs. The
Word spans the air-bridge with
curlicue and flourish. Make
straight the way! Make room!
Make a cake!
F vau: a hook
Meaning hangs like a silk dress,
a heavy coat. There. Behind the
door waiting the structure of a
breathing body to plump and move.
G gimel: a camel
Here it comes a again from
another direction, dust fluff
at each footfall and on to dots
and silence…
H heth: an enclosure
Teeth drawn up, a white pallisade
and through the palings wag woof
and oink moo click suck burp cluck
and yap yap yap yap yap.
I yod: a hand
Finger or fist. Take that!
Take that! If you would
rule a people, first force
them to eat your words.
J yod: a hand
On the one hand, chaos.
On the other, order.
And down the middle,
the jagged blast of
K kap: the palm of the hand
And here’s the bird-print of the
goddess, her creatures owl and
hedgehog, bloody as birth and
spiked with sticky jig-a-jig.
She examines the pattern on a
new leaf and says: look, look.
See how the heart cuts across
the other lines.
L lamed: a goad
You gotta move. You gotta
figure it all out. You gotta
go with the babble of brook
and creek and out into the
main current where the flow
is thunder, driving us all to
the edge and over.
Raus! Raus!
M mem: water
When a word is launched it
bobs about like a little red
boat under a proper sun on
the blue stripe of now.
Go, little boat. Go.
N nun: a snake.
This letter wriggles through
dry leaves slipping from skin
to skin.
O cayin: the eye
I see you. Yes, I see it all
through your round window.
The well, the bubble, the tear.
No pupil. Just your perfect
bowl, holding nothing but
white water.
P pe: the mouth
Her mouth a puckered kiss
breath popping like seed
from a dandelion to settle
on other hillsides, other
mouths soft and damp as
flowers, with their roots
down deep.
Q qoph: a monkey
The tricky ones skip and mimic.
No wonder the bootmen are
burning books, clipping the square
for another winter. But on the
fence above their sweaty heads,
the letters tease. Catch us, bootmen!
Catch us if you can!
R res: the head
You’ve got your head screwed
on backwards, looking over
your shoulder. You keep your
head, though, under fire. You
growl. You bare your little teeth.
You say: heads I win, tails I win.
You are strong, backwards or
S shin: teeth
The word bites, leaving a ragged
edge and a tiny bubble of blood.
It goes off to sit in its box,
tasting memory.
T taw: a sign
What signs are these? Crossed sticks,
pointing every way. Grass bent in the
direction of travel. A man whose arms
are spread like a cormorant’s wings to
dry in the blast of faith. And down here,
he’s 4 her.
In red and black
by the railway track
he sets the old refrain.
I Am
I Love
to the clickety-clack
of every passing train.
U vau: a hook
High five!
Up yours!
Come. Go.
Bless. Bash.
Some letters
hang on by
living hand
to mouth.
V vau: a hook
Snagged in the mouth by a sharp
hook we were lifted to flap about
growing legs on the bank. At brain
stem’s root the memory that once
we drew a perfect wake across a
still morning when there was no
sound but air comparing notes with
W vau: a hook
Waa waa
baby cry.
Waa waa.
Maa maa.
Daa daa
X samech: a prop
They hold us straight as a
row of beans. Without them,
we’d flop and muddle. Futharc
and ogam on wooden stakes.
Majuscule, uncial and all those
clever bastards who have spelled
out our rattle and marked the
spot where we were lying,
Y vau: a hook
Here it is, shaking above the
hidden spring. And here it is,
split for two wishes. And
here it is, wine flowering on
a slender stem. Break the
glass with a dancing foot.
Let the wine run.
Z zayin: lightning
In a flash, all is made plain:
it’s an ordinary tale passed
breath to breath, like living.
We perch, claws caught in
the skin of a shining tree.
We sing with our heads
tilted to the storm. We sing
the song that is known only
in this valley. We pass it on.

From The Inhabited Initial (AUP, 1999)
Fiona Farrell

Last updated 26 July, 2007