“The Untranslatable Word” by Jackleen Holton

Jackleen Holton


In my native tongue that has as many names
for money as the Inuit have for snow,
a new word surfaces like a tiny, red
stone in the rubble, or a morning poem
pieced together from dreams,
though my head throbs as I huddle
over my desk, doing its bidding—
is there not a word for that,

the idea you must get down on paper
before it dissolves and you cease to know it?
A thought that shape-shifts into something
like longing? Or is it more of an atmospheric
loneliness that storms through you, the rain
on your face mingled with tears—
although there is no word for that either.

For so long we have been a country
devoid of those words that transcended language
to elicit, for example, the Swedish reflection
of the moon on a body of water: Mångata;
or Jijivisha, Hindi for the one who epitomizes
what the French know as Joie de vivre, another quality
for which we have long been wordless,

so thick-tongued that even the lines
in between the lines couldn’t quite enlighten us.
It’s like the way our minds try and fail
at constructing the bright
threads between constellations—
and speaking of which, why isn’t there a word for that?

But might there be a name for the thing that floats
across borders, links one world to another? Perhaps it’s a kernel
of truth in the red eye of madness. The center is silent
as an eclipse. If we listen, could it awaken us?
Or has it already begun? It’s not warm,
though steam rises from it.

from Poets Respond


Jackleen Holton: “The typo #covfefe took on a life of its own. Something about it suggested transcendence and beauty, despite its origin. So I went where it led me.” (website)

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