The Latin word for poetry, carmen, is also the word the Romans used for a song, a magic spell, a religious incantation, or a prophecy—all verbal constructions whose auditory powers can produce a magical effect on the listener.
—Dana Gioia, “Poetry as Enchantment”
Carmen, the Latin word for poetry,
is the same word the Romans used for song.
My father Carmine played accordion—
His sisters called him “Carmen.” Were they wrong
to hear his music as an incantation
off the beat, bound to a single key?
A magic spell, a song, a prophecy—
Each holds the power to lift us. For how long,
clouds breaking, did a dark sky hold the sun?
Was it a star in motion all along?
My father’s namesake was Mount Carmel’s vision—
Ailing, he kept her scapular nearby
useless without the right words. When he’d pray,
I’d think: Words for the old or very young.
“Carmen,” his sisters smiled. They loved to listen,
Carmen, Carmine, Carmel on each tongue
that knew which name to speak or leave unspoken:
Mary, an apparition. Borne away,
the bellows resting on his knee, he’d sway
—Who were these women she was blessed among?
Each word a child speaks puts stars in motion
or, twice-blessed, they stay where they belong . . .
Words bring the charm, become the talisman
that summons Carmen, prayer, and poetry.
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