Recently, I stubbed my toe. It was one of the bad impacts, the kind that moisten your tear ducts and amplify your doubts concerning the good intentions of the universe. Oh dear, I thought. Pardon me while I weep. Then I shuffled downstairs and read the opening poem of Billy Collins’ Nine Horses. “As it is,” writes Collins, “I am simply conscious / an animal in pajamas.”
Which, to my surprise, made me feel better, because it reminded me of the ways we encounter ourselves through language—all of us animals in pajamas, stumbling around, bumping into ourselves. It’s like an ice palace, I thought. Like stepping into an ice palace. You walk inside and find yourself reflected, made numerous by light.
The study of words—their opacity and strangeness—forms a common theme among the pieces collected in this issue. Often, these linguistic explorations present themselves in the form of animals—some gentle, others swift, ardent, carnivorous. A word, we learn, can be a whale. A father’s unspoken devotion may be symbolized by moths. Gradually, we can acclimate to the vocabulary of peacock and meadowlark, flounder and snail, spider and honeybee, hooked fish and horse. As readers, we may find ourselves caught up in the delicacy of these creatures—the slow work of words inching their way across the page.
And when, in the midst of reading, we find our own personal ice palaces, it is like the opposite of stubbing one’s toe—the absolute, mathematical inverse of feeling doubt in the universe. Yes, we say to ourselves. Yes, of course. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.