To Snayles

do you know snails
i have thought they are Puritan

not given to frippery
or at least deliberate
demolishing the breakfast fungus then
placing one foot after –
another pilgrim’s progress

or perhaps aliens

foreigners lost and blind
groping their hopeless way
back to the caravan
burdens shifting as they crawl
another step
another step

or shortlived
adventurers who can’t sit still
while the swift sun arcs to evening again
for the days assigned to snails are few


Speaking of snails, one of my favorite parts of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’ encyclopedia De Proprietatibus Rerum (translated from Latin into Middle English by John Trevisa) is this:

And heere I speke of bestes þat haueþ hornes of kynde of bon. For snayles haueþ certein hornes neisshe and glemy but þay beþ nought propreliche hornes but þinges yȝeue to snayles for help and socour. For snayles beþ feble of sight and gropeth and secheþ here weyes wiþ þilke hornes. And if he meteþ wiþ any hard þyng, he draweþ in his hornes and closeþ hemself wiþinne here schelles [for snayles vsen here schelles] instede of houses and of castelles.

Roughly updated into more familiar English:

And here I speak of beasts that haveth horns of kind of bone. For snails haveth certain horns soft and slimy but they are nought properly horns but things given to snails for help and succour. For snails are feeble of sight and gropeth and searcheth their ways with these horns. And if they meet with any hard thing, they draweth in their horns and closeth themselves within their shells [for snails use their shells] instead of houses and of castles.

I like this because you can almost watch Bartholomaeus’ brain working in between the lines. I can’t remember if the first sentence signals a new topic or the end of one, but it’s as if B. suddenly thought, “Crap, snayles have hornes too. Need to make a quick distinction,” and then thought, “Now that I brought this up I guess people will be wondering why snayle horns aren’t proper horns – will explain that asap,” and then, “if I mention the horns without mentioning shells this will seem weird. Everyone mentions the shells.”

The Moth’s Return: Preface to The Incomplete Encyclopedia

In which I, Owl, first of that name and wisest, do interrogate the natures of things.

First we inquire, for what reason should a creature interrogate the natures of things?

For the primary reason that we live among things and name them; this one this, and that one that, but the names remain empty; we know neither their natures nor the relations between them and ourselves. For it is manifestly the case that in days past the ninth generation of men no longer understood their nature or the nature of their King and did rebellion against him, which act resulted in their destruction; in this the seven hundred and seventy first and present generation, men do not even believe in natures, saying that the name alone is real, or that nature and name are one and the same. To such men I say as Nog son of Nous did that names and natures cannot be the same, for though my name has meaning and accords with my nature, yet could I have been named Moth and remained myself.

For the secondary reason that the naming of things and the study of their natures is pleasurable, there being sundry and diverse methods of dividing one thing from another. And this in so much that the naming of things and the study of their natures might go on for ever without diminishing in wonder. And often one name may be delightfully exchanged for another when the things the names belong to are like to each other in some respect though they be different in every other respect, so that, in example, the sky may be said to be the ocean, or the sun a beacon, when in fact the sky is sky and the sun sun. For in the midst of great difference it is marvelous that a striking likeness is found. And stories and poems are told the better for it.

But not for the reason that the knowledge of all things must be gathered into one place. The first eagle Kandidior, who was so learned that there was never book found big enough to contain all his learning, said that the list of the natures and relations of things is always increasing; at the moment an eagle writes down the complete knowledge of things, this eagle forgets that it has been asking questions of things and no longer listens for answers. And this eagle remains stupid all its days.

To this I add that Kandidior did not say it is foolish to begin writing a knowledge of things in a book, only that one must continue asking questions without pretense of knowing all the knowledge of things. And the present book only adds to the unfinished lists of other books, beginning with things of great importance so that men will remember their natures and the nature of their King even if they do not discover things of lesser importance.


December is the ocean
that Ararat remembers.

The yellow months open and shut
like moth wings,
the purple months, like crocuses.
But Novembers close with an arctic slap
and Ararat remembers that.

“It was quiet.
Even the little birds whose hearts
beat in fits and starts were still
or gone, and that was odd.”

“Then the motion of the grasses,
how the waves went through the hills.
It was cold.
I felt the hand of God.”

December is the sting of salt
the shock of lost time
that dispels the selfish afternoons,
it says Wake up
the floodgates are opened.
What are you about?
The doors of the ark are shut.

in the deep days of December also swim
fresh memories of Him
Author and Protagonist of earth,
and the truth
is worth the waking.