"The Unwritten History of Prose"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Jan. 6 2009 7:22 AM

"The Unwritten History of Prose"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear T.R. Hummer read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

.......... … a litel thyng …
....................—Chaucer

The prose of merchants, the prose of ministers,
Pornographers' prose, the prose of Julius Caesar—
Every militant word. Executioners' prose, inspectors' prose,
The dreamy calculation of love letters,
Attorneys' prose, morticians' prose,
The coded prose of spies. One ice storm,
Years back, scribbled its thesis on Ohio.
In another, my father, still alive, incised my name
Backward in rime on the kitchen window.
He stood outside in the world, ice in his eyebrows,
Breathing. My neighbor has no dog run.
My father built one for his brace of English pointers
Who howled their misery in doggy paragraphs
As the storm revised them. I was old enough to read
Three words, and he'd just scraped one of them
In front of his blood-lit face.

……………………………………....The prose of sociologists,
Alchemists' Latin prose, the cookbook prose of chefs,
Memory's watery pages—how to map its geology, its chalky strata,
Volcanic upheavals, sediments of excrement and ash?
Someone lies in a bedroom illuminated by ice-light
As the storm cracks down. On the hearth, a small fire;
On the table, a sheaf of parchment; by the door,
Twitching in sleep, an indeterminate dog.
The man composes in his head. I wol yow telle
A litel thyng in prose
, he might be thinking.

T.R. Hummer is author of 10 books of poetry. His 11th, Skandalon, is forthcoming from LSU Press. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.