Thursday, September 25, 2008


be in your body

be in your mind

be in your people

be in your world.

slips through the fingers

Every time I write a paper, it's amazing how solid an idea can seem until I go and try to defend it.

Friday, September 12, 2008


everything cycles; nothing repeats.

hints from heloise

Today I was reminded that some years ago I discovered that if you plop a towel or some clothes over them, you can keep your glasses from fogging up while you're in the shower.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Biked down the hill by way of the Boulevard on the way to my first ASL class today, and on turning off the path: lo, sand cherries! Which are really basically a kind of plum, a tasty tasty little plum, growing in ample quantity on each plant.

These lovely things have taken on a kind of semi-mythical quality for me ever since I first ran across them in Dr. Frank T. Siebert, Jr.'s documentation of the Penobscot language. In the Penobscot Dictionary manuscript we find listed two basic terms.*

First is nekawαmkimin 'sand plum, sand cherry (Prunus depressa Pursh)' pl. nekawαmkiminal. And then the plant itself: nekawαmkiminosi 'sand plum or sand cherry shrub (a low matted shrub of gravelly or sandy beaches)' pl. nekawαmkiminosəyal.

Second is αtawαmkimin 'sand cherry (Prunus pumila)' pl. αtawαmkiminal, along with αtawαmkiminosi 'sand cherry shrub or bush (Prunus pumila L.)' [erect shrub of dunes and sandbars, uncommon in northern Maine] pl. αtawαmkiminosəyal.

Quick etymological roll call:

-min 'fruit, berry, grain'
-αmk 'sand, gravel, granular material' (a classifier, in many uses, for you fans of such things)
nekaw- 'sand(y)', αtaw(e)- 'climb'

So here's the deal: since I'm obsessed with fruit (and free snacks from nature in general), I've been on the lookout for these for nigh on fifteen years. Something lurking in the back of my brain suggests I may have run into them once before a few years ago...but whether that blurry recollection is true or not (thank you, o brain of recent years), here they are now, right down the hill from me! And tasty.

Evidently Prunus depressa is now Prunus pumila var. depressa, and it looks from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service materials like it might be the only P. pumila variety in the area. So we might think that either there's some special sub-variety or other distinction made by Penobscot speech community, perhaps reflecting the two different reported growth patterns, or these are two variant names of the same plant.

The plot thickens (who wants pudding?), however: the first thing Wikipedia tossed at me when I went looking for a photo was an entry on beach plums. Sadly, this kid is listed as endangered here in Maine. And P. pumila seems to be threatened too, though I'm not sure if in Maine as well.

I don't know my sand-vs.-beach plums well enough to tell for sure what they planted on the Boulevard---yep, these were planted, not wild, which in this case I think is actually much cooler: always nice to see humans using their distinctively rich capacity for agency in this world to help out another species.

So I'm an untrained plum-identifier, yes, but given that our friends at Wikipedia tell us that P. pumila ripens in early summer, while P. maritima ripens in August and early September, I think it's the latter we're looking at. That, and its photo matches what I saw today much better.

Oh, and the photos and descriptions of P. pumila var. depressa are low-growing, while P. maritima is a much taller plant (as again are the ones I met today), so there's a decent chance that nekawαmkimin is P. pumila var. depressa and αtawαmkimin is P. maritima.

So I am happy. How can an awesome little plum, possibly skittering back from the edge of extinction, not make you happy?

*(Omitting original acute accent marks, which don't render reliably on most browsers, but in the words cited here would be on the third vowel from the end, skipping "ə".)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Today I actually wrote the sentence Why a capitalized engma? as part of my regular, official, plain old normal job. This is weird on so many, many levels.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

lesson learned

Don't snort the inside of a bag of karkaday that you just emptied, as attractive as the prospect of hibiscus dust is.

Lilacs are in bloom: window's full of their waft.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

palmarian update

How things come together: just a few days ago, I actually heard a Passamaquoddy speaker spontaneously use the word "dulse". And as expected, he used it in the plural. Since masses of discrete (typically stringy) objects are consistently spoken of in the plural in this language, rather than the singular used in corresponding English terms like grass, hair, spaghetti, macaroni, rice, and seaweed.

The last of these is presumably a model for dulse-ol, which is what I heard, the -ol being the expected plural ending.

Oh, and yes, I really have heard the plurals spaghettiwol and macaroniwol used hereabouts, the latter while we were at the elementary school cafeteria.

Again, this is what I do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

palmarian joy

I'm so happy: yesterday at the Eastport IGA, they had dulse for sale!

As you head up to the northern Atlantic coast, it's a popular snack, but this is the first I've seen it this far south in a non-health-food-store context. Just a big wad of dulse, in a regular styrofoam-and-saran-wrap setup, like any other produce. It's hands-down my favorite kind of seaweed so far, all salty and purple. Last had it, I think, in my patrilineally ancestral town of Cill Chaoi (Kilkee) a couple summers back: there was a girl my age selling it as "dillisk" (cf. Irish duileasc---sounds kind of it a loan? Indo-Europeanists?) on the beach in little brown paper bags.

So now I have a big mound of sea-reeking mauveness to deal with. Almost a quarter pound of it. Which is a hefty bit of snackery when you're talking dried seaweed.

Now here's the tasty possibility: somewhere online I ran into a recipe for dulse which involves frying it up with oatmeal. Or am I confusing that with a recipe for boiling down carrageenan (cf. Irish carraigín) into a pleasant goo? Oh well, I'm sure something salty plus oatmeal is bound to be good, especially if you toss some lipids into the mix.

Friday, March 28, 2008

poem for mien

electric blue on black
your art wakes me up

Saturday, March 22, 2008


So last night I learned the grammatical gender of whoopie pies in Passamaquoddy.

Because someone was on a snack search through my grocery bag, and the woman of the house (bean an tí, as they say in Irish) said:

No, nekom nihtol.
'No, that's his.'

In Passamaquoddy, nekom means both 's/he' and 'his/hers'.

Even more interesting, though, is the nihtol: it's the word 'that', in the special form that shows dependency of referential access---i.e. his whoopie pie, not just a discursively freestanding, independently-introduced whoopie pie---that my fellow Algonquianist linguists are wont to call the obviative.

Check my diss if you want to know more.

Now the obviative is only contrasted in Passamaquoddy for nouns of the so-called "animate" grammatical gender. So hearing nihtol applied to a possessed whoopie pie tells you that it's of that gender. Which is actually what I expected.

This is what I do for a living.

Monday, February 25, 2008


one of the greatest responsibilities of power is to disseminate it.

to turn your power into other people's power, to use your power to empower.

or to use the word "disseminate" directly according to its history: to spread out the seeds of your power, so that more power can grow among the people you share it with.

this is something we are learning.

that power shared is power grown.

and that as fearful as we all are for ourselves, for our families, and for our friends, we all must overcome the drive of that fear that makes us want to hoard the power we have, in the hopes that that hoarding will keep us and those we love always safe.

it does not. in the long run, it is the power---all the different powers, in fact---that we share with each other, that keeps us all safe.

this is not pie-in-the-sky idealism.

this is simply true.

and this truth is quite freeing.

so go have fun with it!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

古從軍行, in a way

A scruffyish translation attempt for one of my favorite Tang poems. Criticisms welcome, since I'll admit that a decent chunk of the vocab and contextual usage is beyond me.

Oh, and the linking words added at the beginning of each translational stanza (by, hear, now, see, and, so) are meant to be read at the beginning of both lines in each stanza they head. Just written once for a cleaner, sparer layout.



白日登山望烽火, 黃昏飲馬傍交河。
行人刁斗風沙暗, 公主琵琶幽怨多。
野雲萬里無城郭, 雨雪紛紛連大漠。
胡雁哀鳴夜夜飛, 胡兒眼淚雙雙落。
聞道玉門猶被遮, 應將性命逐輕車。
年年戰骨埋荒外, 空見葡萄入漢家。

white day, we climb mountains, scanning for beacon fires
yellow dusk, we water horses, near the borderland river

the scout's diaodou, so dim in windblown sand,
the princess's pipa, so great in lonesome grief

wild clouds: for ten thousand li, there's not a city or a town
rain and snow: incessant, it fuses the sky to the desert

the foreign geese, night after night, calls keening as they fly
the foreign children, tear after tear, eyes both streaming as they cry

we hear tell: Jade Gate is still blocked off,
we obey the general: and stake our lives to our flimsy vehicles

year after year, war bones are buried, out in the desert
just to see grapes brought in, to the homes of the rich.

Monday, January 28, 2008

january in my apartment

You know what's nice? Clomping home up a snowy hill to a strong glass of karkaday that's been steeping all day long, and a box of tasty dates. Such a nicely Middle Eastern way to live in Southern Maine. Now I just need a cat.

Friday, January 11, 2008

His deep soft voice still echoes.

I listen to him, not every day, but when I do, it's for hours. I met him summers ago, working to catch his voice, to letter his words...not knowing that to transcribe, you have to know the words already.

I remember the day we found his own writing, his own English version of the story, written out on a rough scrap, in the shaky letters of men who don't work on paper.

I couldn't understand much of it.

So I listen. I listen and I listen, straining to hear his words, straining to hear a faint syllable, trying to grab back every scrap of sound, everything that was lost.

He sounds nervous, uncertain at times, but then there's the bear story: almost four hundred pounds it weighed, he says!

Or how they beat the Mohawks who came to fight. Or how the flaming vampire skeleton ate that man's friend up. Or...well, these are all just the stories I find in his sounds: are they even really there?

After all, now, with the man gone, and no translation with him, no translation by him, what do I make of it? What do I make of him?

I pick away, I note a schwa, wonder if that's a t or a devoiced n, wonder if there's a short demonstrative pronoun there, or if it's just a tweak of his lips closing. I have no one to answer my questions.

I met his son, already an elder, grandparently. He only remembers one word from his father, and asked me what it meant. I told him it means 'maybe'.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Another one of those days where I hit the wall of my own distractability.