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Page 18

Speaking of slings and arrows,
is it a coincidence that a sling
(to sling meaning to throw) supports a cast
(to cast meaning to throw), for example
on a broken arm? My dictionary is not
conclusive, but apparently sling
and cast (two dour Scandinavians, both
fatalists) meet by chance:

A sling is a loop of cloth or other
flexible stuff used to hurl a stone.
It resembles the hanging loop of cloth
used to support a broken arm (but not,
one hopes, to hurl it).

Thus a sling supports a cast. One throws
(casts) metal (or the plaster of a cast)
into a mold. Also the animal who throws off
his skin (the shape of himself, like a mold)
is said to cast it (only molting, not molten).

(At least once each lifetime, we cast off
the body itself, casting off, indeed,
as a ship is unanchored from land.
The bodies, thrawn with throes, go still,
are thrown away. Myths tell of thrown-off souls,
nearing a throne. Or slinking back to find
another body -- another blank sheet --
to articulate and throw away.)

Thus the arm itself (because soon
to be thrown off) is a cast. And thus
my broken arm (from battling too many
seas of trouble or from tripping on a throw
rug) is held in position by a throw
supported by a throw, strange supports
for what can no longer throw.

But no stranger than bolts (arrows);
for what is bolted down
cannot bolt (though bolted food
can boomerang, another primitive weapon).

Note: I call sling and cast "two Scandinavians" because of their Norse derivations. "Thrawn", says my dictionary (and yours too, you lazy reader!) is Scottish dialect for "thrown", but has come to mean "crooked, twisted" or "perverse". (Why must they bring verse into it?) In the last stanza, bolt means "arrow," then "fastened" (bolted down), then "eaten rapidly" then "run away". The boomerang is that bolted food may be vomited up – a VERY primitive weapon, even more so than the boomerang itself.

Because this is the first of many poems in this collection that is ostentatiously and, apparently, solely wordplay, lacking salubrious social or other justification (apparently), it may puzzle or annoy many readers. Because I've been told for about 50 years by friends and foes that I tend to trivialize my poetry by mixing profundity and powerful poetry with inanities and crudenesses, I'll say a bit more about what I'm aiming at in this and in several other poems in this collection, where I seem to ignore what is expected from a poet. (But isn't that the clue? Must a poet be what is expected of a poet?)

This poem is wordplay, but has few puns. (Some of the other poems will add barrages of puns to my crimes.) It's really dictionary play, dealing with the odd ways dictionary meanings and derivations make unexpected sense. For example, a "sling" supports a "cast" (that is, the noun-forms of sling and cast are related in meaning -- two devices that work together to support and hold in place a broken arm) and to sling is to cast (to throw). But these two words appear to come from unrelated derivations and come together "by chance".

A sling (the cloth sling that supports a broken arm, for example) and a cast (the plaster that holds the broken arm in position) take on those similar meanings by different paths of derivation. They "meet by chance", though both broken-arm meanings come from something related to their other shared meaning (throw). The cloth that holds the broken arm is a sling because it's like the rubber or cloth that wraps around the pellet or stone in the slingshot ("sling") so that one can "sling" it (or throw it). And the cast relates to another use of "throw" (or "cast") -- where "casting" something refers apparently to throwing the molten metal or plaster into a mold or the casting off of skin (shedding) -- where skin itself takes on the role of a cast.

(The slings and arrows of line one are from the To-be-or-not-to-be speech, referring there to troubles that are like arrows and stones from slingshots.)

Then I move to the casting off of a body at death, like casting off from port (a ship is said to cast off when it departs, because the lines are freed (cast off) from their moorings. Then I riff briefly on "throw" (a meaning of both cast and sling), because we cast off a thrawn (thrown -- meaning also crooked, twisted -- as if in agony) body -- perhaps convulsed by "throes" (an echo of throws), and after the body is thrown away, the soul is said to approach God's throne (echo of thrown).

The next stanza interlaces the various meanings and linguistic coincidences further: The body itself as a cast (are we broken?); then: If I have a broken arm in a cast, the arm was probably broken "from battling too many seas of trouble" (from To Be Or Not To Be -- "to take up arms against a sea of troubles" [comes just before the slings and arrows bit; note, "take up ARMS"]) or from slipping on a small rug, called a "throw rug", though some dictionaries don't have this, but the small rugs you often see, for example, in front halls, are called "throw rugs", I think because they are just thrown down, not tacked down like carpets. And they are the kind that people often slip on, when the rugs shift underfoot.

The arm, thus broken by a throw (rug) or from battling throws (slings [and arrows]), is supported by a throw (a sling) and held in place by a throw (a cast), yet, itself, is no longer able to throw. Just amusing myself with the odd coincidences of language and the way the meanings seem to be almost haunting something not quite said -- for example, the way an arm is basically a giving form to a function (reaching is one, throwing is another -- the one stressed here), a solid expression of a being's desire to cause motion, to locate things in space. So it's a solution, and when the solution becomes a problem (broken arm -- can't throw), we solve it with an even more solidified version of throw -- the sling and the cast, solutions that solidify, but render even less functional. (With arm in cast, you can't even scratch it.) I don't say all this, but dance around the way these variants of "throw" keep solving each other, opening up possible ways of re-seeing arms, language and actions. Whether any of my readers find themselves seeing language or solidities and solutions newly as a result of my fiddling – I can't say.

Having dwelt so long on the slings (throws), I decide to give some time to the arrows (or bolts -- though elsewhere I think I do more justice to variations on arrows -- for example, the arrows of Eros). Here we have a word (bolt) that means an arrow (arrows used to be called bolts -- and lightning bolts carry that meaning to some extent), which is associated with motion, but what is bolted down can't bolt (that is, what is bolted in place can't run away), which seems a contradiction, though it isn't really, since the bolts share the pointedness and penetration of arrows. After all, what's bolted (shot by an arrow and pinned against something) can't bolt either. But another meaning of bolt is to gobble food rapidly, which often leads to throwing off (vomiting) food, and that's a sort of boomerang -- food goes down the gullet, comes back up at you, another weapon of a sort. (The boomerang was developed as a weapon.) So in this case, what is bolted CAN bolt (the food bolted down can escape, run away...). I think I've even seen "bolt" or "bolt up" food used to mean "vomit", but I don't find that usage in the dictionary.

None of this seems particularly difficult to me, but why it should be considered poetry is hard to say, except that I enjoy it, and I'm trying to get at the way problems become solutions become problems... -- in life and in the language itself, the way words come to oppose their own meanings or "solve" their own meanings, the way bolt as a word for motion becomes bolt as a word for fixidity (bolted in place), for example, and then goes the other way and becomes the bolting down of food, which, in a way, becomes something thrown again, a kind of arrow, the bolted (vomited) food.

Except for the puns on throw and thrown (throes and throne), these are not puns, but plays among plain definitions of words. Another example (not in this poem) is the way pinion (wing, symbol of freedom of motion, flight) comes to be pinion (fetters, something that pinions you, pins you down). If you study the word derivations, you find that both derive from the word for feather (Latin: penna -- and "pen", our poetic implement, is also from feathers used as pens, so our pens both free and shackle us!). So when people wanted to keep pet swans or other birds around, they'd make them unable to fly by removing key feathers, thus pinioning (feathering) them. So pinions (symbols of unrestricted motions, birds in flight) became pinions (symbols of restricted motion, something that hobbles you or fetters you, or removes your feather -- and there's another interesting echo: fetter/feather. Birds of a fetter lock together? But fetter derives from foot, not feather. I am fettered by the foot in my fat mouth.)

Bottom line: Maybe you're having difficulty with this poem because it's difficult -- all the various meanings of the words. But I didn't intend that to be difficult. All of the meanings are pretty well known. Calling arrows bolts is common in English poetry. The various meanings of cast and sling are all in common use. The one word NOT in common use (thrawn) is defined in a note. And the coincidences I point out seem to me pretty straight forward.

What I think is really difficult about this is seeing why it's a poem and not just a mildly interesting and condensed discussion of oddities in our language. My answer to this is, maybe it isn't a poem. Maybe it's just a mildly interesting and condensed discussion of oddities in our language, where the discussion is sort of looking for a poem to happen, and little poems do pop up in the discussion's wake, some of the word relations generating small insights or inklings of insights, and maybe some of the insights develop later in this collection of loosely linked poems.

I'm not trying to deliver a huge lyrical bang on every page. I'm trying to be good company, to have a chat with myself and maybe the reader and to have some undeniable poetry emerge here and there. It happens that the way the various meanings of cast, sling, thrown and bolt interact fascinates me, so I assume that among my readers are others who will share that fascination. And I hope that those who do not will, nonetheless, persist to get to other sections that will please them more or maybe be mildly amused by any dexterity the poem shows at relating the various meanings – amused enough to keep going.

And I hope, because of context (the other poems, the examples used in the poem, showing "throw" in connection with the throwing off of bodies, for example) that some additional meanings will begin to make themselves evident to some readers -- as I say, the elements of self-opposition and problem-solution built into our language echo or express some pretty basic agreements. Isn't the move from bolt in flight to bolted down something like becoming what we fail to resist (pinion to pinion -- and how we get stuck in our unpopular opinions!)?

Much of this is developed along the way over many poems. I don't try to say it all in this one. And I don't expect every reader to get all of it, and I'm not sure I've put it all here to be gotten. I'm just pointing to possibilities.

My own decision to keep it in the book as a poem is based on something more simple: it fascinates ME. I liked it as I wrote it and I like it now as I reread it, find it, again, interesting the way the meanings interact. I don't assume that everyone will like what I like, but I assume that some will. As for trivializing my poetry, what I hope to achieve (in the course of these poems) are points of transcendence where the trivial and the profound are all members of a larger chorus.

Ending with something relatively trivial and silly (bolting up food -- a "low" subject) leads into some even sillier variations in the following poems, where real lowest-form-of-humor puns stick out their tongues at the reader. For example, the "cast" of a movie, casts of thousands, and then the feeding of casts, who must receive their cast-rations (castrations), and somehow it is all pulled together, I hope, and blows through the puns to something less irritating, something we can live in, perhaps a world or a good conversation (one that can stomach a silly pun or two) over an all-night restaurant table where the waitress keeps refilling our cups and seems in no hurry to clear us out and make the table available to others.

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