If there’s anything at all that can keep me on hold, in thrall, still and breathless, willing to hold off the call of the world of work, even for a day, then it would have to be a good book.
Or a good poem. Or a line written in red on the old wall at the edge of the village that said: “WAS HERE,” or “AM HERE,” or “IN LOVE.”
Just words really. On the page. Or on a bike. Or whispered to someone you did not know. And that was not meant for you, really, but for the lady beside you, praying the rosary and wearing blue, or the man across the road, trying to catch a cab at rush hour. Crying: “Stop here. Now.” Or the boy who sells scrap iron in the hours he is not bent over a worn book.
“Stop here. Now.” Which was really meant for you. Even though you were not listening, really. Even if you pretended that you had somewhere important to go to: someone dead, or dying, or wanting you to listen to their sad story, while you think of the potted plant on your window.
How to explain? How to explain words, which grab you by the throat even if they do not intend murder. Do not intend threat.
Like the wrong letter that found its right owner. Like the shrapnel found on the walls of your old house: vestiges from a war that was not yours, and which you survived. Like missent text that make you smile: “Meet you at the corner 10:30 pm.” And you want to answer: “Yes. yes. on da way.”
Because to love words is to pretend that your unrequited love is returned. That the world was speaking even if it was miles away, and quiet, and had no way of returning your call. That there was meaning (so full of meaning!) in the emptiest pots, in the biggest halls, in small gestures.
Two mirrors in a room hold a vase of flowers in their gaze. A mother mistakenly holds the hand of the wrong son. I am sending out the wrong word that will miraculously heal all wounds. If you don’t get me, then it means you have understood me well.
Because words belong to the deaf and the mute, then they are ours. Because they slip through our ears when we try to chain them to our tongues, then we are blessed by their speech. Because our greatest loves, our deepest ones, refuse to cease surprising us, we find ourselves desperately desperately stumbling past the tangled bush of cliché.
Who will not stop the day for this? Words, words, telling us: “I will give you. I will give whatever it is you want.” ∎
Photo from SunStar Cebu, where this piece was originally published on October 6, 2007.