Here’s the introduction to a long and mesmerizing poem by Robert Kelly, written ten years ago as “preliminary meditations towards the Osnabrueck conference on language and identity”:

When he saw the shape of the cloud
over the monastery dining hall
a foreign word came quickly      [ko.mong]
to his nearby mind,
           O yes
it is the words
who are the aliens
oyez oyez
they have lived here with us
nearer than mitochondria
they moved into our brains and altered
our minds over millennia
Harappa, oyez, Sumeria.
Every language
is a foreign language,
an invasion
from outside of space.

The poem is full of lines I couldn’t resist reading out loud: “Examine, traveler, and sit still”; “philology alone is good for you”; “wild carrots, clover, ragweed, poetry”; “and you call this a Protestant?” I don’t know what it all adds up to, but then neither does Kelly:

I had a theme
but lost it in Los Angeles
when a pregnant lady with a lisp
looked me in the eye

But it’s about language as much as anything, and I enjoyed it and hope you will too.
I came to it via a link at Mark Woods’ invaluable wood s lot, which has recently celebrated its third blogaversary and which—for one day only!—is renamed ::: woods’ lot ::: in response to an irritable request for greater specificity by Eliot Gelwan of Follow Me Here, who complains about Mark’s self-effacing posting habits and his links to “the solipsism, self-indulgence, and preciousness in some of the postmodern discourse which Mark favors” but can’t stay away, any more than the rest of us. (Today, for example, besides a couple of Kelly links he features a Walter Benjamin quote with illustrative picture, an anti–Columbus Day story from Counterpunch, the story of “Howl”, an essay by Michael Cronin on “the position of translation in the context of the relationship between technology and culture,” a paper by Reuven Tsur called “Aspects of Cognitive Poetics,” and much else, beginning and ending with wonderful poems by Wallace Stevens. If you haven’t already bookmarked it, now’s the time.) Many more anniversaries and obscurities, Mark!
Oh, and I suspect “ko mong” is Vietnamese but don’t have the appropriate dictionaries with me at work, so if anyone knows what it means please say so.
Addendum. Doesn’t appear to be Vietnamese; if it were, of course, it would be co-mong, but there doesn’t seem to be such a word with any of the possible variants of o. (There is a Mong-Co ‘Mongolia,’ but that’s not much help.)


  1. is “oyez” pronounced exactly the same as “oh yes”? I have always assumed it is.

  2. The second syllable can be -yes, -yez, or -yay according to the dictionaries; I’m not sure which I’ve heard most—it’s not something you come across very often unless you frequent English courts.

  3. Well, it’s an oldish-French imperative “hear!” so the pronunciation depends on how old-French you want to sound. 🙂
    I think there’s a 16th c. English madrigal somewhere whose rhymes indicate the -ay pronunciation. I could be wrong about this, however.

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