"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. 

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