"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

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.