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Third Person Singular
I says the speaker, the subject. I oppose thumb and index to invite you into discourse, my reality. And yours. She, the third person, is barred from speaking for herself. A pleasure almost like eating and drinking. Or love, for which the Oxford English Dictionary has no less than twenty-four columns of definitions. They neutralize emotion by see above, spilled semen, no point scored. Stored. Reward. We might think that meaning fixes a word’s place in the language, as anatomy or skin color that in the house or back of the bus, but relativity has put an end to absolutes of space and time. Still, we can compare parts of speech with lines on a map that have a different function each: frontiers, roads, rivers, meridians, merriment. This is almost as exciting as grammar. 

The third person remains beyond the threshold while I and you resemble each other. This makes her wonder is she really a person. And if no person, what? Touches the printed page as a talisman, as if its precise reference could teach her to be acknowledged by your stare even when the maple, the rain, the street, the park, all turn absent. What of the hypothalamus, seat of happiness? Do we need to name it, the way the child in her first year needs to attach a name to at least one person? Time runs more slowly near a massive body like your mother, its gravitational effect. She tells you to put the words where they belong. Then you’ll possess something and incidentally yourself. 

The third person, because not a person, can respectfully address majesty as easily as annihilate you. Is she mere interval? Between presence and present? Then time itself would be in pieces. No middle between shards of a singularity where theory breaks down. As when the eyes are prevented from moving, the signals fade within a second, and no picture can be seen. This frustrates the brain’s program to seek out human features. There are other means of contact, she might say. Like touching hands, cheeks, earlobes, necks, breasts, lips, genitals. The tame turtle too rubs against the threshold. Though even touch can be mistaken, and explanations drop into black holes or other contingencies.

So what is hidden in her stillness? No lexical entity nor particular individual. The third person pronoun is of anything. Impersonal inflection with distance very near. In species such as sheep or horses, imprinting occurs right after birth; in humans only as they develop the capacity to discriminate. Between face and price, cat and female sex, spilled seed and safari. Not yet between recognizing a sign and understanding a statement. The echo in her head is not of the big bang, but of sounds most likely to combine into a phoneme, the baby’s exercise in the theory of probability. It has opened up a space that gravity can’t bend in on itself. Where she can take in your words and carry them to term. 

Rosmarie Waldrop's new book of poems, The Nick of Time, is forthcoming from New Directions in fall 2021. Recent books are Gap Gardening: Selected Poems (LA Times Book Prize in Poetry 2017), Driven to Abstraction, and Curves to the Apple (all New Directions).