A Language to Dwell In

Leslie Simon

Leslie Simon

A Language to Dell In was selected as part of MSU Library Short Edition's call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibition "Where We Dwell." Leslie Simon lives in San Francisco. Her poetry publications include Collisions and Transformations: Selected Poetry (Coffee House Press). Her novel The Divine Comic (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing) appeared in 2020. She also publishes essays on literature, film, and politics.

I. Beginning

You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention.
--Toni Morrison to James Baldwin at his death

The original place we dwell in is the womb. Floating in liquid, we develop limbs, facial features, and a breathing system that accompanies us into our early exile. Wanderers ever after, we look for places we can call home or spaces in which we feel at home. Thrust from the womb, we scramble to survive, catching on quickly that we must find a way to make contact. Landing in language, we try to reconstruct a place for ourselves. Perfect, like the womb. We cry, then point and, eventually, speak. We tell story after story, trying to get our needs met, our people known, our ideas believed. We build our language like we build our homes. All the places we inhabit are so many words, so many wants: warmth, protection, comfort, desire. It doesn't always fit. Sometimes the edges remain jagged. But we still look and dream, settle down and talk.

II. Middle

We passed before a house that seemed/A swelling of the ground.
Emily Dickinson

If you live long enough, you will know the feeling of your breath knocking down your chest and out your mouth. It's the building that does it. The soft wave of word and sound that beads into another story and keeps you moving. It's funny how the same stories turn up again no matter how hard some people try to dig holes for them. They just keep on rising like shelters, from the ground.

III. End

the flowers have eyes/ if they had mouths/ their songs would slay us
--Kamau Daáood

The value of a good blade. The private, hidden slaughter house. And the public ones. The war that blooms unflower-like in pots of fear and sorrow. When one mind loosens and another hands it the deluded twist of a dried up plot, no one can go peacefully into the last sleep. We eat the animals and then our young. One slaying exposes and expands another. Then it arrives. A reckoning of unexpected proportions, on watch for a different ending. Natural and full of the original intention. We hold out for song, a fluency that sends us, after all, home.

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