(This is the sixteenth in what will eventually be series of 26 posts I’ve undertaken: each post centers on a topic suggested by the next letter of the alphabet from the previous post. The posts all have to do, directly or indirectly, with teaching and learning.)
is one of those words that you run across
just often enough that you feel you really
should remember what it means, but just
seldom enough that when you do see it,
you're like, um, isn't that the word that
means something about painting on velvet, no,
wait a minute, it's one of those boxes on top
of an elephant, no, that's a palanquin (or is
it?) Damn, I should know this; I've looked it up
a hundred times... Something about what lies beneath
the surface that you can't quite read any more,
because — okay now I remember — it's been scraped off
and overwritten, although given time and attention
what was present before can be reconstructed
and read. Because it's been there all the time.
Pretty much every night after dinner my wife and I play a game of Scrabble. Tonight toward the end of the game I had the seven-letter word "twanger," but had no place to put it. That word sent me off on a chain of associations going back to watching the Buster Brown show on television when I was about seven years old, where there was a character Froggy the Gremlin who was often exhorted by Andy Devine, the show's host, to "Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy." (The weirdness of which exhortation is a potentially disturbing essay for another time.) So for a few minutes this evening, I was absently considering making tonight's "P" post about plucking your magic twanger, being more or less disinclined to pursue the line of thought I had first considered, which was to write a sort of continuation of last night's post. That felt like more work than I really wanted to sign myself up for this evening.
So then we went for a drive down to the store, and while we were driving the word "palimpsest" popped into my mind, for no plausible reason other than that it had been driven up by my subconscious mind to displace the word "pluck," and it set off, as we were driving home, the chain of foggy approximation culminating in clarifying recollection that the poem itself is an low-temperature effort to recapitulate. Somewhere in the middle of writing the poem it occurred to me that that process I had gone through in trying to haul the denotation of the word back into the forefront of my brain from where it had been lurking was in fact a kind of analogue for the process of reading a palimpsest, so then I steered the bark of my poem in that direction in the last few lines, let it carry me into the slip, lashed it to the pier, and hopped off. All of which is to say, tonight I felt more like playing than working, and this was the result.
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