Border Crossings

These mornings I spend hours taking words
​from one language to another. The names,
​the nouns–nombres, noms, nomes.
​What is a tree in German? Baum.
​I know this because of a Christmas song,
​“O Tannenbaum.” In Spanish, it is arbol.
​I know this because I lived in Mexico.
​For the French, I stop and go to the dictionary,
​of which we have four–German, French,
​Spanish, and Portuguese. It’s arbre,
​pronounced “arb.” A main shaft
​is an arbre moteur, which could mean
​a tree motor if one were too literal
​or too metaphorical. In Portuguese, its arvore,
​which seems almost halfway between
​French and Spanish. I pass back and forth
​between skyscraper and cloud scratcher,
rascacielo and Wolkenkratzer.
​This is the poetry of travel– of exit, salida
​sortie, and Ausgang. In my native tongue
​we go on a sortie, an excursion. An Ausgang
sounds like a gang rushing out. Salida like a salad,
​which is ensalada. In German and French it is salat.
A sparrow in German is der Spatz, a little spot,
​or Spatzen, spots in the trees; in Spanish, gorrión,
​going on the ground; in French, moineaus or passereau,
which makes me think of diminutive passings,
​little things, words, moving back and forth
​across the border of one language into another:
​migrations of meaning, all morning long.

 

 

Tim Barnes

About Tim Barnes

Tim Barnes taught in the English Dept. at Portland Community College for twenty-five years. His most recent collection of poems is Definitions for a Lost Language. He is the co-editor of Wood Works: The Life and Writing of Charles Erskine Scott Wood and currently edits the Friends of William Stafford Newsletter."
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