Notes for a Course on Phonology (Poem)

This is an old poem of mine, and a favorite. It was published in the Spring 1991 issue of Yale Literary Magazine (a journal edited by Yale undergraduates). On October 26 I will recite and speak about this and other poems as a featured guest in the MacMillan Institute’s online Poetry series.

Notes for a Course on Phonology

Diana Senechal

Can I ignore the flagellant good-byes
of flailing trees, who lose as they embrace?
Can I forget the flicker on your face,
the green and blue and auburn in your eyes?
Or will I let it seize me by surprise,
that scoundrel death, who leaves without a trace,
snapping the golden thread that you have spun,
that different reason in the rising sun?

The dance begins with sounds.
Step back, and let the feet perform for you.
The vowels make their rounds.

Some come into the light,
knocking the rest into a different hue.
The pattern blurs my sight;

the artist, steeped in rage,
soaking the paintbrush, draws it lone and stark
across an empty page.

The student is a fool
who disregards the reasons in the dark
to memorize the rule.

The consonants in pairs
come forth, some gliding stoplessly,
the others taking chairs.

Some hold the hands of ghosts,
whose flesh and form can come to be
a question of the company
invited by the hosts.

I envy linguists, chemists, the wealthy ones,
the immortal ones. Peering into the gesture,
breaking the leaves into their particles,
they see the seasons as contiguous,
and similar, and not so harsh. I can’t—
I myself crumble,
for I see the grace
of your veins, your lonely singleness of shape,
your lonely colors. I will hold you close
and whole. The time for dust has not arrived,
though it is near. Then I will hold the dust.
A different reason in the rising sun.

the reasons in the rising
the guises of the seasons
the rise and fall of tidings
the crumbling of our reasons
the reasons for the fall
the falling of the seas
the risings of the tide
the dying of the trees
the scarlet in your eyes
the scars the stains the sores
(would I give up your glance
to analyze your pores?)

Two suns rise together, for different reasons,
and meet. One sees an endless beginning,
and therefore begins with the end: dust,
ghostly with life. Time never ends
in this golden light, nor does it ever begin.
The other sees an end barely beginning,
a trap of beginning and end, embracing you,
dear dying one, dear urgent living one.

My page is blank with forms, yours filled with formulae.
They fall like leaves from the sun, missing each other’s reasons.

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  1. veronikakisfalvi4972

     /  October 9, 2021

    This is brilliant. So worth repeated readings.


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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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