vocabulary lessons: Many Circles by Albert Goldbarth

It has been a long time since I’ve done a vocabulary lessons post, but here we are. I had to share this one because Goldbarth made me look up more words than usual! Here they are in context: words new to me, words vaguely familiar but that I couldn’t quite place, and one I’ve looked up at least four times in six months but just can’t seem to learn.

“We say it like anyone else – in part because our death is bonded into us meiotically, from before there was marrow or myelin, and we know it, even as infants our scream is for more than the teat.”

In a list of junktique objects: “The thimbling netsukes.”

Of da Vinci, quoting in part another writer: “‘Qualities which seem mutually exclusive are combined in him’ most miscibly: ‘the world revealed itself in all its inexhaustiable riches.'”

“There, on the beach, and fitting [Rachel Carson’s] morning’s diligence to the shape of the chambered nautilus, the Spirula, the knobbed whelk, the moon snail making its gelid way, the lightning whelk, the tulip shell, the pink conch, the horse conch, the embryo of the nudibranch, the umbilicus-shell of the Sundial of Taiwan.”

“I sing of the ‘spirals at the Maltese temple of Tarxien’ and ‘those on a stele from one of the Shaft Graces as Mycenaue, c. 1650 B.C.'”

“The green spring wound in the cotyledons.”

“I sing for his phylacteries.”

“A bud vase sprouts a jonquil.”

“Our sleek weed-whackers take us just so far, and not a single deviant, thunder-roughed, heirophantic molecule over the line.”

“Desiderio Kansal remembered climbing the pyramid steps to the temple of Kulkulcan and, by his candleflicker, witnessing Augustus in a hieratic mutter in front of an earthen vessel, ‘the kind the ancient ones used in burning incense before their gods.'”

“Even the desktop humidor is expansive, it could coddle a couple of preemies, and its lid is ivory and cloisonné fretted into a Byzantine pattern.” (I know for certain I looked this up twice just in the course of reading Useful Phrases for Immigrants. The other source I can’t recall.)

“In a world in which the smoking of even cigarettes by the distaff sex was rigorously taboo (and, under New York’s ‘Sullivan Ordinance,’ illegal) Amy Lowell was famous for publicly and profusely puffing away on her trademark Manila cigars.”

“…his eyes switch from a lovely bronze-and-polished-rosewood orrery on his desk, to the study door.”

“The question deliquesces away at the edges of thought, leaving only a residue that frustrates us.”

A fitting place to end, that question deliquescing! And if that doesn’t give you a taste of Goldbarth’s often exhausting style, I don’t know what does! These lines, of course, were often a little obtuse or complicated (and not just in their vocabulary); he’s not nearly so bad as this seems out of context. He’s wonderful, but not easy.

What have you read recently that’s challenged you?

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