Epiglottis

Standard

Banter, repartee and conversation with a linguist distinguishes itself from almost all other exchanges because of its speed – both in terms of the flow and the pace of topic change. Nothing said has a single meaning. Everything has multiple meanings, which makes the exchanges all the richer – things to mull over long after the brisk conversation ends.

Beyond the aphrodisiac of constant metaphor, your wordplay will be enlivened with terms like “velaric fricative” and words like “epiglottis”.

I love this, as someone who dreamt of but abandoned the dream of being a linguist many years ago. I also love how one single word – like epiglottis – sets me off on some entirely different tangent. In this case, right back to my favorite thing: poetry.

So… Romanian poet Nina Cassian. She died in 2014. Did I even know she died? (As a complete digression: When I originally jotted down this question of doubt and walked away, I came back and thought it read, “Did she know she died?” Are we aware when we die that we have died? I start to wonder sometimes about what we see or experience. So many stories I hear about near-death or about being with someone as they shed this mortal coil lead me to think we meet already-passed loved ones in those last moments, in the in-between world between here and hereafter – whatever that hereafter is, even if it is infinite nothingness.)

Nina Cassian – a discovery I made in high school. Poetry that now feels overwrought and overdone, indelicate and “blocky” (I don’t even have a word that adequately conveys what I mean by “blocky” as the dictionary definition of “blocky” isn’t right). I don’t care for Cassian’s style now, but it provided a kind of shock value at the time, which was enough credibility for me. Hers was a voice, despite not being popular or apparently well-liked by most Romanians I have known, from a mysterious but newly open place. Every Cassian reference I made to Romanians was met with a “You should be reading Eminescu”. I did, but it did not fill the need I had at that moment.

Me, I am partial to Marin Sorescu but at the time of finding Cassian, I wanted to find women poets exclusively – not men, and not pre-20th century – from eastern, southern and central Europe. Cassian qualified. She satisfied my need at the time to explore the limited perspectives of life in specific countries through a female’s eyes.

Incidentally, it also contributed to my efforts to supply my brother and his friends with poems that would shock or offend teachers who never wanted to hear words like ‘orgasm’, ‘clitoris’ or, worst of all – ‘cunt’ (see also: Heather McHugh, Marge Piercy). They could not deny the legitimacy of a word like ‘cunt’ when it was wielded by these women writers and often by champions of feminism.

But yes, Cassian. Epiglottis –> Glottis.

Cassian’s work deals frequently with language and the self/identity divided by language or the identity language confers, and it is within these poems that I sensed her greatest strengths. Other works on other themes seemed weaker:

Language
My tongue — forked like snake’s
but without deadly intentions:
just a bilingual hissing.

Or

Vowel
A clean vowel
in my morning,
Latin pronunciation
in the murmur of confused time.
With rational syllables
I’m trying to clear the occult mind
and promiscuous violence.
My linguistic protest
has no power:
The enemy is illiterate.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, the poem that actually came to mind as “epiglottis” flapped its way casually into discussion, “Licentiousness”, which naturally was on the penultimate page I searched (after looking through hundreds of pages of disorganized collected poetry)…

Licentiousness
Letters fall from my words
as teeth might fall from my mouth.
Lisping? Stammering? Mumbling?
Or the last silence?
Please God take pity
On the roof of my mouth,
On my tongue,
On my glottis,
On the clitoris in my throat
vibrating, sensitive, pulsating,
exploding in the orgasm of Romanian.

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