You spend your life collecting the words that become your vocabulary. The words have associations that are specific to you. They are attached to sensations that you sometimes look back on, sometimes forget, sometimes crave, but that always exist in the palimpsest of your memory. Some of these words have cultural importance. Love and all the weight of its utterance is a big one. Its presence can be bright, like a million unexpected lightbulbs turning on all at once and illuminating a sweet lumbering beast you didn’t see before. It can also be deeply soothing, like the sun going down for the first time in 4 months in Norway. Maybe you love many people and one day you take out 20 dollars in small change and give money to every person who asks it of you on the street. You walk down every street in the city, burning with love.

Likewise, you give away words as gifts to people. “Hey man”s you have many of. They are like pennies. If you drop one here and there it’s whatever. Sometimes you even throw them away in a careless sweep along with other trash like “doing good” and “see ya”. After a particularly hairy sweep, no more small talk, you think. Only communicate the big things. After days of silence and feeling cold underneath sweaters, you learn that you, like most other people, don’t have that many 100 dollar bills to give. You jangle your pennies more cheerfully.

Coveted words are framed and affixed to the walls of your vocabulary. You wouldn’t just call anyone your mother. You wouldn’t just call anyone your girlfriend, but maybe you would, if you’re still burning with love. You’re intense that way. You wouldn’t just describe any experience as being transformative, unless you for real turned from a bald egg into a spiny echidna. You look back at that experience and wonder if that egg was even alive, much less you. You wouldn’t just describe any person as being beautiful, because that word is not meant to describe people. That word is reserved for the gradient of blue to green that a dense forest turns at dusk on a silent cliff, a color the Japanese conceptually call ao.

So you’ve built this pretty gorgeous vocabulary edifice thing that you live in at all times. Sometimes you add a brick here and there and try to say the word lmao out loud. The sound of your voice lays across your face like a projection and activates when you speak. Every time you speak, you are aware of chinks appearing in the edifice and people peering through them at some unpleasantly murky part of you. The structure teeters for a second and restabilizes. You jangle your pennies nervously. You age slowly. You fall in love with someone when you are 70. You say to her “I wish I could have met you sooner,” to mean “Do you think I am a bluish gradient in a dense forest at dusk?” when actually she means that you are the tiny turbulent eddies of milk in coffee. Plaque is building up on the walls of your arteries. You die first, and vacate the premises of your vocabulary understanding that you have never communicated anything other than animalic scents.

About Jayinee Basu

Jayinee Basu lives in San Francisco. She has been published in Everyday Genius, Metazen, Test Centre, Banango Street, Clearly Stated, and TAGVVERK. Her poetry collection, Asuras, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

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