from Demonsthenes' Legacy
Historian of Hiccups
Recently recovered on the shore of an unnamed island off the coast of
Crete, the following selections from Demosthenes’
Legacy—once thought to be an anthology of dictionary entries
disguised as homophonic fragments or misplaced maxims, interspersed
with a series of biographical accounts—have since been verified
by a panel of scholars as the long missing core of the collection of
“word-pebbles,” or “pebble-poems,” which the
oracular orator rolled round on his tongue, overturning, with dogged
determination, the caustic condition to which he was born, which denied
and defined him, his destiny. The original manuscript’s sources,
who have requested anonymity, confirm that while the collection
includes only limited entries beginning with certain letters from our
contemporary alphabet, others seem to have generated special interest,
perhaps at a time of great stress. Defined as much through example as
exposition, the pieces here assembled, which have seemed to some to
resist incorporation, if not inflection, in the larger social body,
show signs of a primitivist’s interest in what was once called
pure poetry—hypothetical if no less certain, democratic if not
demonstrative, autotelic if not antiquarian—a poetics of asides
if not adjacency, of apposition if not opposition, of motion if not
motives. In the absence of more complete information, the Legacy
provides a concrete compilation of all the evidence we have or may be
likely to have, albeit in fragmentary form and barring future
discoveries, of Demosthenes’ poetological quandaries, his quest
for a lexicographer’s voice, his lapidary quarries reclaimed.
Every suggestion wasn't made. Nor was advice which, feeling, showed.
The arrangement was speed, in contradiction, cacophonous voices held in
tow. Or twin conclusions much the same, agreed to in principle, hidden
names. And so relented, caused a curfew, deft provisions mastered,
sane. Unexplained in particulars, counter frames.
Connective tissues, sun-bleached bones. Dry leaves the shadows barely
ran through. Sought them out there stranded, vehicles, staged
encounters couldn't name: "Theatrical," he said, "but what's the
point?" Then nothing, silence: "You're in this, too." A lonely place
without a passport: “No less than these require a stone.”
Everything in its time, but not these words. These words, the
exceptions, strain the rule. Each open system comes undone. So language
says: “Except in here.” Here the rule’s the
exception, the exception the rule: “What on earth was the
question? What the hell do you care?” He’s not talking to
us. He’s not talking to them. Every manner of speaking, unsaid.
What cudgel of cordials cut close to the bone? What manner of main
lines, linoleum? In his days lay delirium, in his cause, cerebration.
Such pressures as pleased his ghosts became him. The higher the rubble,
the longer the robe. On the off-ramp he might have joined them,
concluding by chance to make an end. What Hubble of hype secured
Socrates' screening, soaring high in the sky, Plato's Pi? Without
guidance or measure, his entreaties escaped them, flowing far to the
right of the cedar's nose. In the back of the alphabet, hidden behind
the Oreos, behind the Animal Crackers and Lucky Charms, product
placement opportunities awaited in groves. Some pastoral pique
possessed his fancy—“Still no word from the newsroom.
Blind seers sanction birthing main streams. Sullen time shares.
Headless reeds between the lines. One door for many entrances. Their
platform shoes and diamond skies. Where streets call, dark,
indifference reigns. Through windows, walls, small openings,
moon-struck. Those equal signs above their eyes, that traffic-stopping,
Category one displacement menu: "Show contrition. Value gold." As
overdrawn and—keep them guessing. Not that the ATM was new.
Partitions scripted, folds encrypted, uncontested code, true blue. For
clarity's sake a random sample: three-time-wonder, dry-wall-stud. Four
bogus chips to make some green.
In correspondence, nothing new. He fought for its spirit: “Only
what’s free once lost is true.” But the leather of the law
gave up its sentience. Intending a sweep, he lost his focus. On the
floor, compromised, a smatter of guesswork. Purloined in such purposes,
manicured sentences, cyber and sand traps under toe.
How taut to the tongue it would be, had been. Not that he would be
there with you. Not that the decisions would be your own. Not that his
advisors would know what to say, how to act, what to wear, in whose
company. All the words would be his, only different, endowed with new
meaning, for a fee. When the oracles had spoken, the Juggler of Worlds
would inhabit the ring. Not a peep from the gallery, not a cry from the
crowd. Every word would be perfect, the way he had promised, the way it
was written, every title entitled, every prayer as if prayed. In the
language of laymen, his legacy.
Unquestioned coinage left him queasy.
“What’s lost, stays lost.” In exchange for the
marginal, remainders enough to see him through. Across what’s
left of the divide, a canyon carves its insurrection. Passing borders
on serene. A comfortable sign surpasses quickly. Pebbles cancel
Inside this tent you'll see again. Wonder of wonders. Miracles. Some
ghosts survive, and thriving, save. Salvation slaves our very host. A
parasitic crowd draws near, resurrecting old foliage. Blank slates soon
follow, whispering sweet nothings. Diffuse directions storm intentions.
Muttering masters cancel threads.
Historian of Hiccups
Corporeal captive of carnal concerns? Carnivorous captain of blustering
speeches, howling in the wind? Oracular orator, whose speeches could
beguile the most mercantile of listeners? For those who have eyes, to
hear? Recalcitrant general, whose armies commanded unconditional
clauses of complete surrender? Hysterical news-hound in cable's
labyrinth? Is it possible, as some accounts have ventured to suggest,
that he did not take himself as seriously as his voluminous
commentators have supposed? That "Demo," as a few close friends called
him, became increasingly demonstrative, both privately and publicly,
protesting the inevitable imbrications, if not implications, of his
prescient predilection for uncertainty? That in his later
years—though documentation remains sketchy, the authenticity of
the papers that have come down to us, open to question, subject in some
quarters to passionate dispute—he could be seen dancing on the
beach, penniless, naked, singing, signing, as if all of his cares lay
behind him? That with old age he became, not more aloof and
curmudgeonly, but more playful? That as he "came in to his own," as the
saying goes, "in the nick of time," as it seemed to him before he was
about to take leave of himself, or at least his earthly incarnation,
not his triumphs but his failures, not his eloquence but his
stuttering, came to seem increasingly dear to him because—and
these are his words, antiquated though they seem to our contemporary
ears—they made him feel "more human." Catatonia, utopia, the
distinction blurred. Some say in his last days he spoke only in cliches
and idioms, not out of senility, but on the contrary—through a
heightened sensitivity to language that is rumored to become available
as the "light at the end of the tunnel" begins to
appear—eschewing le mot juste as a period concept of dubious
currency, preferring commonplaces as a path, as he put it, to "stay in
touch" with the people, the polis, more communally.
"O slip-knot tongue, unclasp your meaning.” Better a tin drum
than a habit maid. An inside game. The dream-voice said:
“He’d learned too much when he was young, so earmarked
every contradiction.” Asleep, eyes closed, the eagle landed. All
covered in silver, dulcet tones.
Cut to the rose of frayed perspectives, jigsaw puddles, constant noon.
Such are the dreams of pipes on curfew. In the essence of laughter, to
scale. Where shepherds work but seldom linger, boosters lack a vital
sign. There where the forms of critics rise. Starched evenings in the
enclave shrink-wrapped, curve of star life on display. Where music
shudders, matter flays.
Somewhere beyond the distance of. Structures of innocence,
passion’s bones. Language falters through its paces. Lapsed
cognition’s empty form. Wide gaps of meaning, understood. Planned
circuits issued to survive. Beneath the weather, patterned news,
questions carved inside the blues. Some wondrous something,
Nothing could alter his will to resemble. Odes to toys. Archaic
symphonies. Baritone altos bass asides. Synchronous acquisitions rose.
Then the Manager stepped in, hurried his pitch, removed his hat.
“Can’t change the world, can’t change
yourself.” Eye-level dear, I love you so. Break out the old,
breathe in the new.