Imagine a leopard grammar. A book of rules for the voice to move, sinuous and soft, hiding and revealing in the spotty leafage. A set of rules and exceptions and ways of directing yourself that follow the ventures of a big cat—its moods, appetites, its silent ways of knowing, the mystery set deep behind its eyes. What does a leopard think of, tail wagging in the middle of a dry field.
Imagine a leopard grammar—only to imagine you have misheard it.
Thoreau translates gramática parda as tawny grammar, a kind of wild and dusky knowledge. So even Thoreau, really, is chimeric about it—he translates parda as tawny, which is correct—pardo is Spanish for brown, the kind of murky, musky brown you get when you’ve mixed too many colours; the dry edges of mud-rimmed shoes; brackish water. But then he describes it as wild; stretches to dusky. Even Thoreau cannot resist the pull of association, the draw of assonance—he too imagined a sinuous animal that becomes one with the land.
On a day empty of clouds, words land with a clammy sound. Ma li senti, quindi, i versi di questa chimera, regurgitated on the shore?
Grasping onto time cut-outs between chores, after work and before sleep, thoughts are not a mesh diligently spun on a grounded loom. But a path of voice notes along a shore, spat by the tides. Collected versi—non-articulate, feral cries; what slips, liquid. Snaps back, elastic. What leaves room for more—maybe silence—to hang on the rest of the line, in poetry.
You are readying yourself for work, reading to keep your mind alert to something that isn’t day-to-day trudge. It could be the same fox that inspires the poem. It is in two languages, a fox appears and disappears in it; snapping between a language and the other, the poet muses after the fox’s comings and goings. The fox slips, the lithe border of a shape throwing itself off in the space behind it.
Between the ones that came before and before the ones that will come afterwards, we stand looking at once in and out; soglia. A doubling that is also one. Threshold.
Rilke wasn’t part of the programme, but our teacher quoted lines she knew by heart, brought it up in one of her usual Pindaric flights that grabbed at everything that she knew and stitched it together into a giant quilt. Her rupture stayed with us longer than any poetry.
The quote was on the cover of her edition of the book; that’s why she knew it so well.
On a day when it hadn’t been anticipated, the voice is found again. It had been lying there waiting, it seems, like something dropped that no one had picked up, ready to be found on the pavement the next day. It may have been because of a sympathy with something else: a word or a sentence encountered by chance, which you would have overlooked, but which the voice claims as theirs. It’s what the voice would have said, used to say; it belongs to it, so it brings it back.
You keep rolling the words over and over; the voice calls closer, grows softer.
Above the blurred dark stripe on the painting is a pale mark. It, too, seems to hinge on your eyes, keep you looking and keep you from looking. It has a different body to it, though—a drop of translucent blue blurred on the grey sky, watery, thin. Daylight moon, pale sun.
In recalling, the voice acquires a body made of light, the same substance captured on film. It sits forwards on the red chair, elbows on knees, rolling a cigarette; a minor daylight plays around the face. Every now and then, it looks up, to speak. Lightly.
Tawny grammar; wild and dusky knowledge. Henry David Thoreau, 1851.
Soglia. […] Leggermente. Rainer Maria Rilke, 1923.
Minor daylight. Joan Eardley, 1955.
Enxhi Mandija is a writer. She is a graduate of the MLitt in Art Writing at the Glasgow School of Art. Her writing has appeared on SPAM Zine, The Yellow Paper, The List and The Elphinstone Review amongst others. She is Assistant Curator at Peacock & the worm, Aberdeen.