Home > Translation > To the Empathetic Poet from the Aphasic

To the Empathetic Poet from the Aphasic

January 4, 2011

by Lisken Van Pelt Dus

I am rising from bed and calling it
vineyard, I am washing my face
and calling it my kitten, I am preparing

for the day which is my wife’s birthday,
and all I can say to her is three chairs
and a rousing crown of thorns, for she’s

a jolly good pharaoh, and she cries
and I cry too, telling her don’t cosset,
my lanyard, don’t captain and she’s not sure

if I mean stop crying or snap out of it.
I see the look in your eye, less
pitying than, really, admiring: such

freedom with the signifier, such constant
newness. Yes, yes, I can see you also know
this reaction is inappropriate, but still,

you indulge it. When I declare
the morning a boulder or the night
a ribbon studded with birds, you

delight in my poetic insight, as when
that child in the kindergarten class
(prompted, mind you) declared purple

to be a triangle. You claim to be
empathetic — get inside this, then.
I want to give my wife a kiss but have lost

the word. I call it a cargo and she cries
harder. It’s a matter of choice — if you, poet,
describe this vase as a book, very well,

convinced of your lyric authority, I’ll leaf
my mind’s eye through the pages
of its millefiori Venetian glass. But if I

call the vase a tree, it’s not my intention
to take you into a forest of redwoods
or to a willow beside a stream. I wanted

the vase. Yes, I’m making it new, but you,
you can name it — vase, wife, love — for all
you protest that you’re transcribing the unsayable.


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Lisken Van Pelt Dus is a poet, teacher, and martial artist living in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her work can be found in Conduit, Main Street Rag, The South Carolina Review, upstreet, and other journals and anthologies, and has earned awards from The Comstock Review and Atlanta Review. Her chapbook, Everywhere at Once, was published by Pudding House Press in 2009.

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  1. Nicole Callihan
    January 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    This is really lovely. I want to put flowers into it and leave it on a sunny windowsill. Thank you.

  2. January 4, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    This is a wonderful poem! Can be read in many ways, but also makes me think of how disease robs the afflicted of language.

  3. Alex Cigale
    January 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, Lisken! I’ve neither seen nor heard of it in a month and it’s a sheer joy to come back to, and even better on the big screen then I imagined it in my own solitude. Bravo!

  4. Lisken
    January 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Thank you all! It was a fun one to write, and as ever I’m happy to have my work on qarrtsiluni!

  5. June 1, 2011 at 8:49 am

    This was gorgeous not only in reading it, but in hearing you read it. I think to some degree, poets are already translators of a sort. We all do it a little differently, and we are starting with slightly different raw materials, but nonetheless we are translators. This was a treat to listen to.

    -Nicole

  1. January 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm
  2. May 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm
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