Elspeth Healey, p.1

                                        for Antonette di Paolo Healey

filia flammarum,
non corpus sed verbum cupit


where does one start
in search of the first word?

fingers poised to pluck a flocculent white
blossom from a potted tree,
left hand cradling a bowl half-filled with petals,
as she looks down she observes a fissure in the stone underfoot

intrinsic to the nature of change is the passage of time


the modern English word world comes down to us through
the Old English woruld meaning “the age of man”

ply over ply

she looks down, the billowing yellow of her garment
shifts, wrist afloat

no one speaks of the texture
of the text anymore. not, at any rate, as he did


the pluperfect is used to position events within a time frame

it was only once he had lifted
the edge of its left wing
that he perceived a minute puncture emitting light

the question is often where to begin


Angus Cameron, at age 42, was the first to die


at the bottom of the pile
there is a photocopy of her
hand nestling a word.
glare from her watch has obscured the third through fifth letters

if it had not been the tower of Babel
God would have found another reason
to divide our tongues.


originally, there was an underlying logic
to the order of the alphabet.
a repeated sequence: vowel, labial, guttural, and dental

lifting, ply over ply

contained within the stone’s crevice,
a weathered scrap of parchment

I have imagined you talking a thousand times.
you always say the same thing


in 1970, at the University of Toronto,
Angus Cameron began work on the first comprehensive
dictionary of Old English

and she said
to be barren like that

no two birds move alike,
flight often mistaken
for fall

somehow this has taken the form of an elegy,
I am unaware of when or how this occurred


all things of beauty are also elliptical,
the oval in its perfection

over the years there have been many
who have collected words,
among them, my mother


Sharon Butler, aged 43, died three years later,
this, the summer of 1986

                    feormynd swefa∂
a ∂e beado-griman bywan sceoldon;
                    the polishers sleep
who should brighten    grim battle-masks

once there was a logic


in the medieval period it was the habit
of scribes to modify texts while
reproducing them

you are difficult to translate
and I am tired


Egyptian to Phoenician to Greek and Latin
(according to the early theory of
Emmanuel de Rougé)

on our mantel, a photograph
of the four of them,
smiling into flash

no form can sustain memory unleashed

though the parchment bore only three
words written in a juvenile hand,
on seeing them, the bowl fell from her grasp

some posit that all beginnings, as we conceive of them, are fictitious


they began with the letter d
because it was big,
but not too big

my mother, silver hair, golden at the tips

there is no liaison for leaving a growing subtext.
we are not surprised to learn that
the second was followed by a third,
the third was Ashley who wore her dark hair in braids


there is something that the English
language will not allow me to convey,
an echoing vision
of my mother at her desk

in a photocopy that has fallen behind
the radiator the third letter is now visible
but the first obscured

between when the bowl fell and
when she too collapsed there was
an instant in which a similar emission
of light could be observed


in Old English there were two competing words for
our word lord: dryhten and hlaford,
the latter, which in its literal sense means
“guardian of the loaf,” is the survivor

Ashley Crandell Amos died
in the year of the letter æ
it was her death that most affected my mother


the words forge themselves such that
that I can no longer recall the object so desired

on one side of the glass there are three
winged creatures; here, letters gilded with light,
this relates to words I imagine you saying

if it had not been God, then it might have
been the alphabet


the fourth death is not of a person,
nor is it a death entirely


and like that, fallen

so we have found a beginning.