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Jean Emerson

In the Beginning There Was the Word


Even Alfred Kroeber believed that it was the word,
not the experience of awe itself, that set humankind on its different path.
Dogs, of course, evince awe.
I have seen this myself.
Maybe you have, too.
One of the dumbest dogs known is the Samoyed.
I know this to be true because we owned one once.
That was back when our house boasted a back porch where errant females gathered,
smoked cigarettes and talked philosophy.
The dog was allowed in the discussion circle because he evinced awe.

Not having been there, you may not believe in his awe,
may suggest he should not have been allowed. But,
listen to this.
If the filter tip of a Salem Light is raveled and twisted just so,
it will form itself into a flower, not unlike the tissue
flowers that graced the crepe paper streamers of the gymnasium
dances of Austin High School in the late forties.
One of these filter tip flowers tossed
to the porch floor would become a small white
lotus blossom floating on the grey of the concrete.
The dog, seeing this miracle,
would prostrate himself on the cement,
creep forward,
gingerly approaching the lotus of the cigarette butt,
his muzzle held close to the floor.
Once within the unbearable circle of the marvel of filter tip,
he would leap backward,
whirl around and approach the flower, again.

He formed no word for his amazement.

It could be argued that with that one word
he could have formed ritual,
recognized affront,
organized Holy Wars.

This poem first appeared in Passager.


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