New inventions often result in new words, or neologisms. Radar, for instance, emerged as an acronym for a “radio detection and ranging” device. Cultural developments also evoke new words and phrases, such as cyberspace (originating from science fiction), soccer mom (from the world of politics) or prequel (from movies and pop culture).
In June the World’s Fair with bright red strawberries and cream over seared Belgian waffles. It grows hot. Trapped in the crowd, a tangled skein of nerves, lost and hungry for quiet, for tenderness, I ride with my aunt on a long conveyor belt to see the Pietà. So gentle the grieving, tranquil mother with her downcast eyes, the stone folds still around her, the cold flesh of her perfect son. She does not attempt to cry. My aunt, primed by The Agony and the Ecstasy, leans to recognize “Buonarroti” on the chiseled band, tasting the contours of each round unaccustomed syllable. She whispers the name. She will not last two years. Silent, thrilled and careful as dancers, when we step off on solid ground we are joined by our secret, sworn never to tell what we have no words to say. This is how it will be in the winter we take our leave: bitter flakes in a sharp ribbon of wind beyond tears or anger, the long frozen loop home from the hospital waiting for me, as we both know. Suddenly shy and tongue-tied as a girl, she will reach out from her bed to touch me, recalling too the marble brow, faintly wrinkled, the white hand, open, as if it were asking a question.
No one understood my nightly need to be reassured I’d wake up again the next day. Eyes closed, I saw no sheep but the tufts of pampas grass looming silver like a solitary path. The scroll hung above me, a verse in five and seven, its flowing hand thin and illegible—I still knew it was about our life not lasting very long. How is it that adults were okay with such a prospect? In July, bamboo blades rustled against paper cranes and prayer strips; I wondered how I’d made the cut, when I wasn’t a boy my father wanted, wasn’t a koi princess my mother said would magically turn her tail into a pair of legs. I looked for the fabled rabbits on the moon, a family of them taking turns to pound rice into pearly cakes along their dark, elliptical orbit.
A copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book published in America, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s and is expected to bring between $15 and $30 million, making it the most expensive book ever sold. One of two copies owned by Old South Church in Boston, it is one of only 11 remaining copies published. The proceeds will be used to help replenish Old South’s endowment once $7 million of it is used for deferred maintenance. The church historian resigned over the congregation’s decision to sell one of its treasures, but the rest of the congregation overwhelmingly supported the decision (New York Times, November 15).