Word For/ Word: A Journal of new writing

Geoffrey Babbitt

An Own Place

When the mind knows a place, the sense perceptions it can elicit become familiar on a level beneath reflective awareness. Known intimately enough, any particular can be as unthought of as one's own heartbeat.

The wooden sign that Rev. Hightower once worked bits of broken glass into so it'd glitter under the street lamp becomes, over time, a familiar low oblong shape without any significance at all, low at the street end of the shallow lawn. Unremembered because known.

Before knowledge evinces itself through forgetting, perceptions flood. Attention holds them up to light. The light that attention holds them up to is always changing. The eye passively receives, or else it reaches.

But the senses do not go all the way. Beyond them Neptune shakes the walls and Little Infants creep out of the flowery mould into the Green fields of the blessed.

Poetry and prayer are similar ways of acknowledging mysteriousness.

The Greeks would have used τóΠoς to refer to both a place and a passage of an author.

Places' auras are central facts--
impenetrable, unpinnable

--the mind--a meadow--Gloucester--California

how unlike! lowest deep a lower deep
          eternal pasture folded in all thought
                         complex of occasions, geometry
                                     of a spatial nature with / the grace of an / orange, one can
                                                    run / over water

There is an unnamable other side to what the plot of land's name or description can designate.

It's redundant to say heaven is without margins.

The gravel slope turns ankles running toward parents' cars by the M&W.

Any place--island or page--leaves behind a trace of something unnamable.

The plot is collaboration.

Bottom Left Corner of Parchment Leaf from an Anglo-Norman Litany of Saints in a French Book of Hours, ca. 1375

vines scritched, chrysalis
onto vellum leaf--all
color lost, stolen thunder
--spiritual curl
of the vine
tending ult-
imately toward--tattered edge
curling away from the gutter's
pull--ex verso--orate pro nobis
-- burnished golden thetal S
--blackblue vines clustered, berried,
beaded about--armor
for the letter--arc of the part
signature, part -scape--locus amoenus--
Mopsus' cave's vine,
its tendrils round
with clustering flowers
--idle idyll--
appreciable superfluity occasions pleasure--
who Augustine--
who gets extra time


strewn border a trace of
the arc of the page--a form
of play, of prayer
fire-calling away--idle
and so are the flowers-- τòΠoς means
god from untilled earth
--attention holds
lower idle light--I rest
on this island as a seeing finger
upon a page--the sun
unlocks light in
the text--a trace strewn
unnamable--place holds
the messianic child to the first frost,
street lamp, pasture--

Office of the Dead, from Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Made for Pope Leo X (Giovanni de Medici), ca. 1513-1521

The Office of the Dead is one of the final sections in a Book of Hours, usually coming directly before the Suffrages of the Saints, which tends to be last. In Pope Leo X's, however, it is prioritized in an uncharacteristic position at the forefront. It comes second--directly after the liturgy for the Office of Matins on Christmas.

An illustration of Lazarus often decorates the verso folio before the Office begins on the opposite recto. Here, Pope Leo X's name is on a decorative shield beneath Lazarus--as if Leo identifies with Lazarus as Death casts his eyeless stare across the abysmal gutter.

binding in green velvet
with metal clasp--a garment
for wealth spent--the elect are sent
by fire--the name
whole, defensive--archeological
posture, pastor gilded conjure

eye returns tooth--
upon his arms
a new transport--why flower
purpose forth books--leaf upon
his sacramental duality
--rise, rise, reap, reap


late 15th century French Book of Hours--
Kalends, gilded "KL" in a brick-red, two-line tall box
important feasts rubricated--hence "red-letter days"
labors of the month above the calendar, zodiac sign scene below

Februarius: a peasant warming his feet by fire, another bringing in wood--a man fishing for two fish in a lake
Maius: rider with his lady on horseback, two attendants--twins with a shield
Augustus: three men thrashing wheat--two virgins holding staffs of wheat
September: a man bringing a full basket to another treading grapes--a girl holding scales

and so forth

Books of Hours have a bent for the pastoral
even foliate bar borders can conjure an elsewhere
sprays of acanthus--stylized fleshy fronds--delicate rinceaux--ivy--in "Virgil's fourth eclogue's"
prophecy of "the Golden Age's return," nature pays spontaneous homage to the messianic child by
abundantly producing acanthus and ivy

Flemish strewn borders tempt the reader to pick flora up off the page

in order to discuss preferences with the bookshop keeper, a customer wanting to commission a Book
of Hours might open a second-hand manuscript to a rural scene very different from the "bookshop's
urban setting"

illuminations transport

Illustration of the Trinity, from a French Book of Hours, ca. 1500

a petal on a still new page--sadness
of numb lips under an unfocused
gaze--song in the next room
that will change you--looking
back, when the two looks meet,
awe-terror--instead of
constellations, full forms
in the sky--robust, heaving--
vibrantly pulsing bear, scorpion, archer,
trinity--some mysterious, reasoning thing
puts forth the mouldings
of its features from behind
an unreasoning mask