It has been shown by linguists and psychologists that babies can make all the phonic sounds of all the words of all the languages in the world, whether they are needed or not by the baby for the language (or languages) he or she will inherit, learn. It is only once babies begin to construct the words of their mother tongue that this amazing ability is lost. In one sense, we lose the capacity for language even before we have begun to speak.
In ‘Miniatures’ I wanted to write a sequence of poems about becoming a father for the first time. I wrote these poems to remember the first year of my son’s life. I also wanted to write about a time before language and perhaps also about a time before memory. The poems spilled out beyond these limits so they actually cover two years of Joseph’s life, and include some of the experiences I shared with my second son, William. They also pushed into the territory of considering my own parents, a natural response perhaps when children come along.
The first poem in the sequence is about talking in ones sleep. The narrator cannot answer the questions asked of him. Even as I read these poems I understand I have lost the language of that first year already.
Just before you give in to sleep
I think how, in the dimness, you’ll speak
to me in riddles, or rehearse
to the clock-face soft non-sequiturs,
but your questions without answers
are harder than the stars
whose failing signals dust our room…
You promise me? How long now? Was it the moon?