Saturday

Oct. 4, 2008

The Pinnacle

by W. S. Merwin

Both of us understood
what a privilege it was
to be out for a walk
with each other
we could tell from our different
heights that this
kind of thing happened
so rarely that it might
not come round again
for me to be allowed
even before I
had started school
to go out for a walk
with Miss Giles
who had just retired
from being a teacher all her life

she was beautiful
in her camel hair coat
that seemed like the autumn leaves
our walk was her idea
we liked listening to each other
her voice was soft and sure
and we went our favorite way
the first time just in case
it was the only time
even though it might be too far
we went all the way
up the Palisades to the place
we called the pinnacle
with its park at the cliff's edge
overlooking the river
it was already a secret
the pinnacle
as we were walking back
when the time was later
than we had realized
and in fact no one
seemed to know where we had been
even when she told them
no one had heard of the pinnacle

and then where did she go

"The Pinnacle" by W.S. Merwin from The Shadow of Sirius. © Copper Canyon Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of Edward L. Stratemeyer, (books by this author) born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1862), who created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, and Nancy Drew. After writing about 150 books of his own, he created a team of ghostwriters to write books based on his outlines.

It's the birthday of journalist Brendan Gill, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1914). He wrote for The New Yorker for more than 60 years, publishing fiction, essays, and criticism. He said, "Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious."

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Language seems to me intrinsically comic — noises of the tongue, lips, larynx, and palate rendered in ink on paper with the deepest and airiest thoughts in mind and the harshest and tenderest feelings at heart." The humorist Roy Blount Jr., (books by this author) born in 1941 in Indianapolis. When he was a toddler, his Southern parents moved back to Decatur, Georgia. After going to Vanderbilt University on a scholarship for students aspiring to a career in sportswriting, he did a master's in literature in Harvard and joined the military. He worked for The Atlanta Journal, then got a job writing for Sports Illustrated and wrote his first book, about the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.

Roy Blount has been a freelance writer for more than 100 different publications. He has written profiles, essays, sketches, verse, short stories, and reviews. And he's written about politics, sports, music, food, drink, gender issues, books, comedians, language, travel, science, animals, economics, anatomy, and family life. His new book comes out next week. It's called Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. In it, Blount writes:

To me, letters have always been a robust medium of sublimation. … We're in the midst of a bunch of letters, and if you're like me, you feel like a pig in mud. What a great word mud is. And muddle, and muffle, and mumble. … You know the expression "Mum's the word." The word mum is a representation of lips pressed together. … The great majority of languages start the word for "mother" with an m sound. The word mammal comes from the mammary gland. Which comes from baby talk: mama. To sound like a grownup, we refine mama into mother; the Romans made it mater, from which: matter. And matrix. Our word for the kind of animal we are, and our word for the stuff that everything is made of, and our word for a big cult movie all derive from baby talk.

What are we saying when we say mmmm? We are saying yummy. In the pronunciation of which we move our lips the way nursing babies move theirs. The fact that we can spell something that fundamental, and connect it however tenuously to mellifluous and manna and milk and me (see M), strikes me as marvelous.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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