The Lost Word






“The Lost Word”

by Bryan Dietrich


Whitman died chasing Champollion, seeking
grammar for God, a uniform hieroglyphic.
American answers for Egyptian enigmas.
Still, he found no stone, no Virginia Rosetta.
Dead language.  Dead union.  Leaves of grace.
From Humboldt’s humble hunch to Grimm’s
lautverschiebung to Chomsky’s mysterious miracle,
we seek first clause, the name of he who names.
And Adam?  No.  What logic was ever uttered
in Eden?  Do not eat, said the seraphim.  Do not
partake of this knowledge, this that would make
you obey.  You should not know what not is
not for you.  Do not eat.  Do not, and burn
with desire.  Do, and burn with despite.
Boëthius in his cell, Socrates on his couch…
Aristotle, Aristarchus, Beauvoir, Baudrillard.
All sought solace in symmetry—argument,
artifice—art in the desert of the real.
Suppose Saussure got rhetoric right.  “Here,
look for where it begins, where the saying
starts, posit unknown from known and watch
the sign signify what you never intended.
Publish what you never published, argue
what others only ever said you said.  No,
begin again without yourself, with yourself only
signified, referent to nothing.  Imagine nothing.
Argue even after death, after silence, always
after that.  Provide, provide.”  Bakhtin knew,
and Barthes, Eco and Foucault.  There is no
general course, nothing but everything outside
the cave, the lingering linguistics of longing.

Velikovsky wanted something out of nothing
too.  Wanted Jupiter, Dyu Pitar.  God.  Father.
This and Venus, fully formed, from his brow.
Wanted it so much he made it out of math.
Offered equations proving the planets Pong.
Spat forth from storm and eye, his imagined
proto planet zigzagged through our solar system,
passing sister Earth, parting the Red Sea,
dropping manna.  None of this, of course,
happened.  Except it did, on paper, on papyrus,
among the numbers in the many means of God.

So.  Geometry also.  Not just grammar or logic,
rhetoric or arithmetic.  There are always
other roads.  Remember, Escher drew us
into the plane.  Made the stairs that take us
where all stairs should go, bridged our absence
where nothing becomes something becomes
nothing again.  Dimensions divided, angles
arbitrated, hand drawing hand etching images
of enzymes and ants, geese and gravitas,
humanity and infinity, the romance
of reflection.  We are the shapes that shake us.
We shape the shaped us.  But having no end,
owning no original arc, we lose ourselves
in the labyrinth, looking, always looking,
mounting the stair, modeling Mobius, moving
across the great girth of earth’s grid, plotting,
rising, falling, always falling, into formula.

Finally there is Mozart, Mozart and Drake.
We could mention so many, humanity’s long
lineage of making meaning of the moans
the moon makes spinning seas up from darkness,
spitting us forth, calling us home.  Musicians
and astronomers, all the madmen and the maimed.
All trying to mutter the music of the spheres.
Mozart plucked it down to play as performance.
Drake made math out of why we might pluck
at all.  Mozart gave voice to the wolf, to the hour
when the stars speak, when our souls seek
anything but silence, everything as silence.
Drake defined the size and scope of said silence.
Said likely we have never been alone.  The number
of communicating civilizations in the galaxy?
The number of other souls?  The sheer volume
of possible answers to our ancient arrogance,
our quixotic questions?  The name of the name
of the being who best knows god?

If the number is even a fraction of a trillion—
the number of stars we see most close about us,
this galaxy, this home…  If the number is even
the smallest part of the 300 sextillion stars
saturating the larger unseen scope of sky,
all we know and don’t know…  If they too
have planets, which they will, if they too
have seekers, which they will, if they too
have Huygens and Hawkings, Shakespears,
Saussures, golems, Grimms, Mondrians
and Mozarts and Masons, which they will,
they too will have sought all that is not.
All that is.  They too will have waited
for the word.  Carved in bone, in sandstone,
in gnarl and gneiss.  They too will have hollowed
out caves at their version of Karnak and Callanish,
Jericho and Jeju Island, Turobong and Toposiris.
Temples.  Always temples to the word.

But what is it, this word we seek, this emptiness
nothing seems to satiate?  What I AM?
What I AM NOT?  From Chauvet to Chartres,
from Tan Tan to Berekhat Ram to Teotihuacán,
nothing becomes the something we desire.
Desire becomes reason to reanimate all matter
that matters.  Golem.  God particle.  Golden
record.  We put our words between ourselves
and that which we cannot name.  Holy of holies.
JHVH.  INRI.  ACTG.  SETI.  Letters, always letters
on the face of the deep.  Christ carving his word
in dirt, a code to keep the craven at bay.  Cain
on his knees, at the watering hole, washing,
washing a sign unutterable, a stain that will not
not but stay.  A rabbi, entering the temple, God’s
name aflame on a tongue he dare not wag.

And the temple at Karnak.  A name spoken
to bring back the sun.  And Loki screaming
it, eternal, in the dark, in pain, beneath
the brunt of everything earth.  And Yeats turning
and turning to nothing in his nodding Tower.
And Crowley leveling law.  And everyone.
Everyone.  Bradbury channeling childhood
from the stars.  Melville, scribbling, spotless
as a lamb.  Eliot shoring up ruins.  Rushdie
and Lessing and Lovecraft and dear dead
Dostoyevsky.  Everyone, Clemons to Clarke, Dante
to Dickinson.  Faulkner, last man on this doomed
dark rock.  Einstein, Ellison, Edison, Morrison.
Quill to kinetoscope, pumice to papyrus,
Guttenberg to Gettysburg to Googled Gliese.

We have made our marks, made our signs,
sent them sailing, soaring, failing into the night.
What words?  All words.  All but the one
we have sought.  All but the right word, the one
we lost before the rest.  The name, the name
of the one who made us, laid us brick by brick,
set us on the level, encompassed our corners,
rounded what was rough, set square that which
strayed, the one who tamped us, tested us,
smiled upon us, deep as the deepest temple.
The one who beveled all that cannot be
altered.  Altar, Psalter, stair, infinite author
of our inner path.  Origin of everything more,
everything ore.  Article.  Particle.  Core.  More,
more light.  At the center of all, before that first,
last, best disaster.  We seek it fast.  We seek
it faster.  We seek our Master.


“The Lost Word” Reader’s Guide

by Worshipful Master Curtis Scott Shumaker


Those who attended the 2011 Installation may remember that it featured a reading by Bryan Dietrich of the poem he wrote for the occasion: “The Lost Word.” Some recent events have made it timely for me to discuss that poem in this month’s Trestleboard. Firstly, the poem has been published in a leading, nationally known Masonic publication: Philalethes: The Journal of Masonic Research & Letters. This journal introduces “The Lost Word” by saying it was written for the occasion of Culver City-Foshay Lodge’s Ninety-second Installation, which gives our lodge nationwide recognition. This, combined with the fact that Bryan Dietrich is an awardwinning, top-selling poet is likely to make “The Lost Word” a highly acclaimed and well known work of Masonic literature. Secondly, the poem is being featured in the short film that members of our lodge have created for a Grand Lodge film competition. Finally, I plan on leading a discussion of the poem at our Social Night in September. In preparation, I have had it emailed to all lodge members. For those of you who may be interested but cannot attend Social Night, I thought it may be helpful to quote and discuss a few lines of it here as a guide to aid in comprehension and enjoyment.

The biggest tip for reading “The Lost Word” is that it follows the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences represented on the Winding Staircase: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy.
His theme is to show how in each of these fields is a different way of seeking to fill missing or forgotten truths about ourselves and our universe, rediscovering that which we need to make ourselves whole. Finding the “lost word” that will give completion and meaning to our existence. Ironically, the poem suggests that this search will never be entirely complete. This should be no discouragement, however, since the search is more meaningful and valuable than the answer. If you find Bryan’s poetry difficult to understand, it is chiefly because of two reasons: 1, he makes use of many references to literature, history, religion, and the sciences that test the knowledge of even highly educated readers; 2, he uses complicated forms of wordplay that involve puns, double-meanings, and metaphors that require unraveling, much like riddles. Surmounting these challenges, however, will increase meaning, line by line. I will explain a few key passages here, and we will discuss more of the poem at the next Social Night.

The first few lines of the poem may be especially frustrating for many readers:

Whitman died chasing Champollion, seeking
grammar for God, a uniform hieroglyphic.
American answers for Egyptian enigmas.
Still, he found no stone, no Virginia Rosetta.

The key here is the history behind the Rosetta Stone, an artifact inscribed with the same text in three forms of writing that enabled scholars to finally read Egyptian hieroglyphics. At this time, roughly the middle of the 19th century, some people (including many overly enthusiastic Masons) were so in awe of the accomplishments of ancient Egypt that they believed its newly translatable writings would reveal primal, universal truths about God and his relationship with humanity. When many were looking to the past for “lost truths,” the American poet Walt Whitman was creating a revolutionary type of poetry inspired by the newness of America which, he may have believed, would allow him to find a universal form of expression that could reveal great truths about the human condition. Of course, all he found was an American form of expression. And the Hieroglyphs only whispered the dead words of a dead language. Language can only be a tool; it will not produce the lost word out of thin air.

Notice how the next two stanzas discuss logic and rhetoric in much the same way. In these stanzas, you see many names, only some of which you may find familiar. My general advice in reading Bryan’s poetry is that when you see names or proper nouns, look them up on the Internet; don’t stop with just a simple definition. The more you read in each case, the better you will understand Bryan’s purpose in referencing them. I’ll give you one here for free, because you may find it especially interesting. In the second stanza, he refers to Baudrillard, followed shortly by the phrase “the desert of the real.” Jean Baudrillard is an important philosopher in the fields of sociology and communications who argues that we use our systems of media to create an artificial reality.
Interestingly, the above quotation, as well as Baudrillard’s book, Simulacra and Simulation, in which it was originally used, were featured in the movie The Matrix, another artistic work involving a search for that which was lost.

The fourth stanza suggests that arithmetic alone cannot provide the answers because it may be improperly utilized to support false models of physical reality. This stanza may sound like nonsense, but it is actually an accurate summary of a wild theory by a mad astronomer named Velikovsky. Ho posited, with
“correct” mathematical proofs, that an unknown planet he called Pong created Venus out of Jupiter and was responsible for biblical miracles. Notice how Bryan blends the mythology of the Gods Jupiter and Venus with their planetary equivalents. In the geometry Stanza, Bryan observes how geometric shapes define each other, and he extends this concept into a metaphor describing how we shape our world, even as our world shapes us. With music, he connects the Renaissance idea of the music of the spheres to the supposed radio waves that will bring us evidence of extraterrestrial life. In turn, he speculates how we look to hypothetical superior alien civilizations as sources for all the answers we seek, including the ultimate question:
. . . The name of the name
of the being who best knows God?
The Final stanza, which is the part we used for our Grand Lodge film, encodes references that any Mason should easily recognize. It also casts light on the true meaning of the last, lost word:
. . . All but the one
we have sought. All but the right word, the one
we lost before the rest. The name, the name
of the one who made us, laid us brick by brick,
set us on the level, encompassed our corners,
rounded what was rough, set square that which
strayed, the one who tamped us, tested us,
smiled upon us, deep as the deepest temple.