Falling and Flying: Rediscovering Language


December 22, 2016 by The Citron Review

By Maxima Kahn


I go out into the dark and the deep, I go out in the deep night. It is nearly soundless here, nearly soundless except for my own breathing and the pounding of my heart. I ask my heart a question, and it is torn from me by the black night. It flies on the wind like a piece of cloth, a tiny sail far up on the wind.

Tell me about falling, I ask. Heart answers, I am falling and rising always. All love is falling. All love is flight. I think I must be flying and cannot imagine falling, then in another moment falling is all I am. Is this love? I ask my heart. I let the words come, a boat I build to sail through this world, a lean raft, elegant, precise, imprecise.

Falling is our human life—the stumble, the quick-step, the painful bump, the hard crash, loss and its bruises, panic, rage, depression, humiliation. Stories of falling and climbing back up, we are concerned with these in the human drama, to see someone fall, lose themselves, lose something precious—the ring, the wife, the child, the ego—and find something deeper, more real, something essential they did not know they had lost—we love this—stories of falling and finding, losing and winning, and learning the illusions of losing and winning.

So, tell me a story, you say. But I cannot give you that, at least not yet. I cannot reach back this moment to tell you about Icarus, the boy with the wax wings, his flight toward the sun, and Daedalus, his father, and the fall to the sea, and the painting by Breughel and then the poem by Auden.

I would rather, this evening, if you would, walk through the labyrinth of language, to see what we might discover that surprises us, to follow the red thread, a different myth, to be bemused, in wonder at it all again, to not know language, not know how it works, not know its limits, what it is capable of, to hold each word in the hand, curious, as a new thing revealing itself to us as if for the first time. To get lost and to find our way out, to dare to fly and to fall.

Who is Icarus? What does he ask of us? Fly nearer, child, fly nearer the sun. These wings can burn. That is what language is and does—wax wings to take us too close to something we can never touch, that singes us, burns us, drops us into the dead sea to rise again, wet and confused, into a new life, nameless, a life we have never known.

Language—these gestures melting in air.

I open my clutched hands and they are empty. I will come to you like this, empty-handed, in my most innocent guise, nothing to hide, and we will build a shelter, a shelter of listening. Words will be the stones. I will hold nothing back. Trusting to the process, having forgotten my compass, I dance on these bare feet.

Can language take you down a trail so far you can never turn back or might choose never to turn back?

I want you to look at this bright crystal I hold in my hand, this magic rock—fearful, difficult, beautiful, potent, impotent. This is called language.

The first peoples had this rock. They carried it carefully on their tongues, rolled it around in the cavities of their mouths, spoke the first words slowly and with great difficulty in the click tongue, painted pictures of their words on the walls of caves, pointed and said this and this, searching for the naming, for the glowing coal of words, burning themselves even then, tongue, fingers, hair—such was the power of language. It destroyed as much as it built. It hurt them. It cut things into fine ribbons of distinction, in which the things lost their flavor, began to disappear, got confused—but also it released and honored what was locked up in the body, in the heart, in the soul. It called forth.

People rose to their names and shaped themselves, and the language sprang up like a fire given fuel. They began to carve it down, carve it into clarities, setting stone on stone. It became too permanent, too fixed, locked in their minds. They sought a door and found it in poetry, in rhyme, in song, in pure sounds released of meaning. The words began to dance. It was a dance the people asked the words to do, yet a dance they had to learn the steps to.

The words spun and shaped. The words took hold, became a thing unto themselves. The people learned the words had meanings they had never given them, a kind of mystical power as when one element is mixed with another and surprising results occur. The words had alchemy.

Through the ages we forget and remember, as forgetting and remembering are our human inheritance, a kind of falling and rising, and the words are bound up in this as we ask them to remember for us and record, and all the while meaning slips through our fingers, and important elements are lost, and we get lost in and out of language, as in and out of a thick forest—each verb a leaf, each pattern of sunlight a noun, each pine needle underfoot an adjective, soilbed of our longing. It is doubtful we will ever find our way out of this wood, doubtful that we should. But inside, the words are companion, challenge, remembrancer, design, thief and waypost, liar and truthteller, friend and foe, both flight and fall.


Maxima Kahn lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California, where she writes poetry, fiction and essays. Her poetry has appeared in such literary journals as Eclipse, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Hardpan, Poem, Borderlands, Left Curve, Westview, Slant, Wisconsin Review, Spillway, and Tule Review, among others. She works with writers and artists helping them to unblock creatively and achieve their creative dreams. www.brilliantplayground.com


2 thoughts on “Falling and Flying: Rediscovering Language

  1. […] I’m delighted to share the news that my poetic essay “Falling and Flying: Rediscovering Language” was published recently in The Citron Review. Click here to read it. […]

  2. Bom dia! Visitei sua página, seus textos são lindos! Abraços, miriamcarmignan.wordpress.com

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