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Page 77

We take silent reading for granted.
As recently as a thousand years ago
(when most reading was aloud to a crowd
of illiterates), your being seen reading silently,
not even moving your lips, might get you
suspected of having a pact with Satan
or gawked at as a freak.

(I say "a thousand years ago", forgetting
that even in these awfully sophisticated
post-modern days, millions of people on earth
do not read.)

It isn't easy to forget literacy, once learned,
even these scrawls (my lousy handwriting),
hard to perceive as incomprehensible patterns,
harder still with print -- hard to unsee this
as words and sounds and meanings.

If you try, if you stare at these words a long time;
maybe forgetting for a flash that these
are words, you become aware of all the machinery,
the cogs and cams and conveyor belts, condensers,
generators, colossal factories full of habitual
automaticities that we have constructed
(and forgotten, pushed out of view, like what goes
into our sausages) to let us read a page,
any page -- machinery that dwarfs
the minor, specialized machinery
(though far more books are written about it)
that tells us the words on a page are a poem.

Note: Similarly, most poets think that what's difficult to communicate is "the meaning of life" (or "meaninglessness" – I'm all for less ness) or profound joy or profound distress, all of which (experienced by all at some point) are far easier to communicate than, for example, the meaning of the word "of". Go ahead, convey to me the experience of being "of" something or moving "to" something. And what is the difference between experiencing "a thing" as opposed to "something"?


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