Sometimes, one word in a poem can recast in a new light on all the words that have gone before it, go after it, surround it. Such is the case in “Theatre of the Millo Seco (Botos)”, a poem from Erin Moure’s 2006 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Little theatres.
The word that exerts an unusual gravitational pull is “dichten”. It appears towards the end of a poem that ponders throughout, from the title (“Millo Seco”, which is “dry corn” in Galician) on through, how elemental corn is, as literal and symbolic fodder. Judging by the preceding line of the poem
“for they know corn’s feature, corn’s humility”
you might assume that “dichten” is another noun.
Moure intermingles English and Galician language throughout this and other of her poetry works, so your first instinct might be to search for the word’s meaning as a Galician term. A quick search reveals, however, that the closest match in Galician might be “dictar”, a verb meaning “to dictate (for writing down)”.
Other searches specifically for “dichten” suggest it might be Dutch, German or Luxembourgish. Again, the term appears to be a verb, either related to composing poetry or, surprisingly, stopping up, closing up, caulking or sealing something.
The connection of corn to braille might also suggest a connection between the two seemingly disparate meanings:
“Opening corn’s faces
so that my hands touch its braille letters
The face of corn is all in braille
the corn wrote it”
On one hand, the corn is opening and revealing something through the writing system of braille. On the other, what it is revealing is sealed within a language that not everyone knows.
Do only those enigmatic sheep know what this intriguing word means, and what it means in the context of this poem?
“Sheep will wait by the trough
for they know …”
Does the word provocatively, waggishly mean both things at once? Is it about the composing of poetry and making something impermeable (and perhaps impenetrable, but definitely watertight) at the same time? Well then, let’s wait patiently by the trough until it comes to us, too.