For my niece, Charlie McKenzie, z"l, 1999-2021
Charlie, there should be a word for this: the thought that you can extend the life of someone by dreaming up words that person might have wanted to exist.
And if so, Charlie, before everything else, there should be a word for this: the sun saying “yes” to the voice stripped of speech, the voice of the soul needing to know whether in death it will be raised from its dying.
And we need a word, Charlie, for this: what it is to be face to face with blankness, confident in your own massive patience.
And Charlie, there should be a word for this: the feeling, when getting engrossed in something new, that saying “Wow, I’ve never seen this before!” really means “Wow, I’ve never seen anything before!”
And there should be a word for something else, Charlie: when strangers stop to admire what you are stopping to admire, in a desire to share something—to have a share in something—a little delightful.
And Charlie, there should be a word for the process of collecting, in running lists, all the things done with a wrinkled forehead.
Charlie, we need a word for panicking when there’s reason to panic, but before it’s actually time to panic.
And Charlie, there should be a word for another thing: a secret you want to keep but that by its nature keeps evading your grasp.
Charlie, there should be a word for this, too: a subversive action whose pleasure arises from its harmlessness exactly to the people threatened by it.
And Charlie, I feel we lack a word for this: what it is to see your own body as an evolving expression of bodies, and yourself as a vessel-droplet for a succession of selves.
I want there to be a word, Charlie, for this: in writing, an aside that sits uncomfortably in the flow of the text, not because it is nonsensical but because it belongs to speech, to the kind of sense you can say better than you can write, until you realize: your words in the form of your own vibrating breath have no equivalent in whatever of yourself you can leave behind.
And Charlie, there should be a word for the feeling that being present in the living of your own life is all that is necessary to bypass the others’ previous inabilities to be present in their own lives.
Charlie, tell me there should not be a word for this: the feeling that joining your sorrow to another person’s sorrow does not multiply sorrows, rather clarifies them, yours for you and theirs for them, also theirs for you and yours for them.
And Charlie, we need a word for something else that I know you will understand: just as leap year day—February 29th—appears only periodically but functions to keep everything else in balance (without it, the seasons would begin to shift and slip away), so too there are occasional psychic interventions that keep the whole psyche correctly aligned, but unlike leap year day, these interventions have no identity of their own.
Also, Charlie, I think you will agree we need a word for this: the notes you take that are not what you call your writings, rather that you make in place of writing—in order to keep from writing—and just so, the melodies you sing that are not your songs, that you sing in place of your songs, that you sing to avoid your own songs.
There should be a word for this, Charlie: a thought that feels wrong to write sitting down, rather it has to be written some other way—maybe in bed between the sheets, or bending over the kitchen counter, your elbow awkwardly set.
Charlie, there should also be a word for this: the pleasure of one urgency being interrupted by another, such as the fit of sneezes that come just as the precise formulation of an idea also comes, and your pen hovers above the page, doing nothing.
Charlie, we also need a word for this: the books you collect not to read but to have ready to read, and you—half convinced that they will somehow raise themselves to the top of your pile when the time is right.
I think, Charlie, that you would appreciate a word for this: following through with the plan despite the bad weather.
There should be a word for this, Charlie: a poem you find utterly irresistable except for the fact that it recalls for you a book burning in another dark age.
Charlie, I think you would have liked a word for this: the occasional recognition that what you feel called to do...is simply an odd job in the world.
And Charlie, I think you would have liked a word that meant this: a person who can see how others usually use the truth of the matter when presented with it—not to change, but to go on lying to themselves.
Charlie, there should be a word for this, too: old longing once more passing through your blood, causing your lips and skin to think they can predict the future of your body's memory.
And there should be a word for this, Charlie: what it is to stop thinking in order to fool yourself, just for a moment to be convinced you are once again seeing someone you love, not as fantasy and not as recollection.
Charlie, I also think there should be a word for this: the awkward pleasure-pause when you realize that perfection is actually not what you were striving for.
And I think, Charlie, that you would have wanted there to be a word for this: the fantasy of agreeing to marry a person not because that person really knows you, but because that person is just the right stranger.
Would I be wrong, Charlie, in saying there should also be a word for this?: the recognition, always only partial, that your own inner monologue is preventing you from paying attention to the very thing in front of you.
There should be a word, Charlie, that means this: the sudden awareness of how much of life is spent avoiding life.
There should be a word for this, Charlie: not wanting to take the last step of a process that you do over and over from beloved habit.
And Charlie, there should be a word that means this: the regret that you are not an omni-specialist, that you cannot be your own doctor, mechanic, plumber, pensmith, printer, gourmet cook.
I think, also, that you might have wanted a word for this, Charlie: the desire to put your knowledge about some random thing to the test—only to get lost in learning what would be wrong with any such test you could give.
And if so, wouldn’t you think, Charlie, that there should be a word for this?: the feeling that in taking the trouble to review something you already know, you realize you are learning it for the first time.
Charlie, it all would have been easier had there been a word for this: gratitude at not finding out and not figuring out, gratitude to recognize that you are not made of the things you find, rather the things you seek.
And, too, this world lacks a word for this, Charlie: the odd and sweet sensation of discovering a tiny corner of happiness when you were sure that all the happiness was gone.
There should be a word, Charlie, for this: when being generous toward someone’s bad behavior and mistakes, you inadvertently give them the message that they can keep on behaving that way.
Also, Charlie, I would favor words for this: a word that means “to walk against the wind,” also a word that means “to walk against the wind and find it irritating,” and also “to walk against the wind and find it invigorating.”
There should be a word for this, too, Charlie: encountering a stranger in an out-of- the-way place where you expect to see no one else, and neither you nor the stranger greet or acknowledge one another, but you give one another a furtive look that means, "I come here often."
Something tells me, Charlie, that you would say yes to a word meaning this: what it is to act with desperation to avert a non-problem, as in grabbing your empty paper cup to keep it from blowing off the table in a wind gust (what would be so terrible about it blowing off?).
And Charlie, I think you would have wanted a word to mean this: when someone’s helplessness turns out to have a lot of power…for example, to make you feel either helpful or helpless yourself.
And there should be a word for this, Charlie: the lack of a tablet or a sign or a marker to remember a defunct community where it once existed, a community that did some good in the world, before it shriveled out of being.
And knowing you, Charlie, you would have agreed on the need for a word to mean this: a library after it is a refuge, waiting to be demolished, cleared of everything in it—a shell that the world will not let stand.
And if so, I think there should then be a word for this, Charlie: the way a single conversation with a stranger, maybe even just a few words exchanged in passing, can puncture your low mood and return you from your most aggressive self-criticisms.
Charlie, there should also be a word for this: the weight a person pushes through life—not carries, not pulls, but pushes—and the way that the pushed weight might otherwise be tolerable if not for the terrible psychic energy it takes to keep pushing.
And I think, Charlie, that you would have appreciated a word for this: the feeling that a poem is a temporary halting in the kaleidoscopic movement of language, and that after it stops in your consciousness for awhile—after you read it and hear it and pass through it—it returns to the kaleidoscope.
And if so, Charlie, then I think you would agree there should also be a word for this: the feeling that if a poem does not deposit itself back into the kaleidoscopic movement of language—I mean does not undo itself, dissolve and disregard and dissipate itself—it lacks something as a poem.
There should be a word for this, Charlie: the specific point in space at which you are first able to hear a sound—the point from which even a single step back would leave you unable to hear it.
Charlie, we need a word for this: what it feels like to have the future leaking in all directions from the few times you get to see someone you love.
And Charlie, we need a word for this, too: the bandaged mystery of the world’s generosity—six months to have seen each other, only six—windowed now in the shattered glass of the accident.
And I’m thinking of a not-yet-made word, Charlie, that would mean this: your soul’s tragic beauty still unconsummated—and (I scream back) not consummated in the tragedy of your death, which ripped you out of the world with a violence altogether at odds with your tenderness.
And we need a word for this, Charlie: you, not yet long since gone.
And, Charlie, there should be a word for this: what it is to lie listless all day, to feel I am no longer young enough to understand what has happened, to feel the raw helplessness of yet another day—each day impotent before memory—and what it is to wrestle the impotent day, to wrestle the foul wrongness of your death, the bleakness of the horizon.
Charlie, there should be a word for all of this: what it is to wake with burning eyes to see whether the morning light has yet arrived, and to see through burning eyes that it has not, also that the burning of my eyes is probably what prevented you passing from my night dreams into this place where we otherwise met—but the birds are also waiting for the morning, loud in the ears even through closed windows, loud in their anticipation, awake and eager and unable to keep from calling to one another and to the darkness—what it is to wake up missing someone with the birds around you urging on the dawn, and you struggling to make a companion of the night still clinging.
September 2021, Atlanta