From the cliffs where the birds make their nests to the intimate scene in a hotel room full of colored lights, the word “swallow” makes its poetic appearance. From awkward dinner table scenes (“swallow your food”) to the heightened moment when one is waiting to find out who will: swallow.

Words are artifice. Stare at them too long and they go away. Use them carelessly and they lose their meaning. Don’t use them at all and they die off. They are fragments and figments. They don’t mean anything at all by themselves – but then we drape them in all sorts of elaborate fabrics brought in creaky ships from Crimean lands and suddenly they become full of themselves.

Words are conjurers. They are full of perfume and mirrors. Stare too long at them and their meaning begins to fade away. You begin to see only the roughly sewn seams, the tattered edges. Repeat a word over and over and it seems not to have any meaning at all. It looks like a forgotten pile of letters sulking in the middle of the floor.

Forbearance: n. the state of calm before a bear’s entrance.

That’s a made up definition, but how much of a word’s meaning is just that: made up. It means what it means only by common, mysterious agreement. I could invent a new meaning for a word; if many people started using it that way, then it would be so. A word’s meaning seems so fragile except that it is built on consensus and if you have ever tried to get even a handful of people to agree about anything, then you know that it is nearly impossible. Getting an entire culture to accept the meaning of a word is a feat of heroic proportions.

Words are true. A sentiment can be fake, flowers can be fake, money can be fake… but words can never be fake. They are couriers bearing (and baring) our messages and meanings. The words are impartial servants. We may misuse them, twist them or give them lofty missions to thrill and inspire… but they are just the unsmiling tools of our bidding, going with measured steps about their business.

Words do not smile. They are votives of a sacred faith. Their creed is only to carry the sender’s message, deliver it and attend to the next mission. They do not discriminate, nor do they prefer one message to another. They are above the fray, never betraying even a hint of emotion.

They are words unto themselves. Nothing more and nothing less.

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