Monday, June 26, 2023


Some words are worse than archaic.
They’re broken, smeared, bits and pieces,
Like dragonfly wings on the ground.

In high-minded literature,
Such as Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday,”
You may find the archaic “vans”

Deployed, something that flaps about.
Sometimes “vans” is synonymous
With “wings,” sometimes a poor contrast,

“No longer wings . . . But merely vans
To beat the air.” Go on a hunt.
The etymology’s a mess.

There’s the sense of something in front,
Avant-garde. There’s the sense of cloth,
Which morphed, maybe, into things like

Vanes, as in weather vanes, or panes,
As of windows and so forth. But
There’s no line of descent for vans

As wings or wing-like flaps, sails, plates,
Stiff appendages for flying
Or waving in a startling way.

Vanguard. Weathervane. Window pane.
Fan? A bird’s stiff tail feathers fanned
For display. Mostly humble words

That sound familiar in English,
And van, too, when from caravan.
The poet rose on awkward vans,

However, is an ugly phrase.
The rotors of helicopters
Come to mind. Something clattering.

There’s a prosthetic feel to them.
Stiff. A substitute for real wings.
An effort more display than lift.

But it’s too late to remove vans
From the old poems now, and too late
To improve that broken wingspan.

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