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The Living Word

by Trent Walters

In a world full of trillions of otherwise wasted, tasteless words printed on trillions of otherwise wasted, bleached tree pulp--from the papyrus to the pine--this one word is deliciously alive. I won’t tell which. You wouldn’t believe it if it were so easy. It isn’t: the paradoxical architecture of its lettered spine: curved yet straight. But it is easy: more ancient than coelacanths yet more spry... and sly: the way it creeps, it stalls, it crawls and breathes on the sly. It slips, it slides and plays possum when your eye lands upon its black frames in that wintry wasteland of bleach pulp snow--a frozen and fallow ground--waiting for your eye to grow weary and blink so it can exhale and inhale in the space of that eternity. It bides its time. You will turn the page. You will move on. You have dishes to do, garbage to take out. Meanwhile, it has rearranged the neural map of your brain--former dead ends are superhighways, and once indispensable bridges are washed out (you can still take that bridge though you’re liable to baptize yourself and drown in what is clearly now just a chugging, churning muddy wastewater).

As you cinch the trash-bag ends closed, you see the garbage differently. With the bag slung over one shoulder, clinking gently against your back, you half-consciously mutter conjugations of sounds you’d forgotten you knew. Slowly, you roll your tongue over various viable words, tasting their liveliness.

Outside, mercantile semis jostle futilely for pole position, apply their clamorous airbrakes against the crisp, clean silence, pass in their light regalia like toppled Christmas trees trucking above the Interstate 80 viaduct. You gaze up in wonder at stars as you trudge through knee-deep snow that melts and trickles into your bedroom slippers and through the night’s bitter cold that nips at your fingers and toes.

How do you know it lives if it hides in plain sight? It nudges other words, testing their livelihood compared to its, rolling them aside like slow heavy stones to see where they might go, toward places you haven’t heard their torpid frames clink before. One word occupies the snowy space here instead of there, alters the stories less on the page than in your brain--not enough to change the plots or meanings, rendering the books wholly different, but enough to see your garbage differently.

And, otherwise on an other wise tongue, it is all garbage.

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