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Harryette Mullen-V

Sleeping with the Dictionary




I beg to dicker with my silver-tongued companion, whose lips

are ready to read my shining gloss. A versatile partner, conver-

sant and well-versed in the verbal art, the dictionary is not

averse to the solitary habits of the curiously wide-awake reader.

In the dark night’s insomnia, the book is a stimulating sedative,

awakening my tired imagination to the hypnagogic trance of

language. Retiring to the canopy of the bedroom, turning on

the bedside light, taking the big dictionary to bed, clutching the

unabridged bulk, heavy with the weight of all the meanings

between these covers, smoothing the thin sheets, thick with

accented syllables—all are exercises in the conscious regimen

of dreamers, whose toss words on their tongues while turning

illuminated pages. To go through all these motions and proce-

dures, groping in the dark for an alluring word, is the poet’s

nocturnal mission. Aroused by myriad possibilities, we try out

the most perverse positions in the practice of our nightly act,

the penetration of the denotative body of the work. Any exit

from the logic of language might be an entry in a symptomatic

dictionary. The alphabetical order of this ample block of

knowledge might render a dense lexicon of lucid hallucinations.

Beside the bed, a pad lies open to record the meandering of

migratory words. In the rapid eye movement of the poet’s night

vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a

lover’s name.





Reprinted from Sleeping with the Dictionary (U. of California Press: 2002) by permission of the author.