The Word “Kite”

Another one from Gospel of Galore and Beloit Poetry Journal.



In Italian, it’s cervo volante, flying red deer. In French, flying stag.

In Germany, it’s the same word as dragon. In Japan, octopus.

The Spanish cometa suggests the stars, and fengzheng, in China,

is the wind’s stringed instrument. Kite for us is a predatory bird,

from the Old English cyta, for which “no related word appears

in the cognate languages,” though we know now that kites

were once used by virgins, midwives and surviving twin sisters

to hang their laundry up to dry.

Perhaps the Dutch wouw really means a kind of bird that blooms;

the Finnish tulppaanikonen is a tulip turning itself as wide

as possible, just before its wings fall off;

the Thai wan-we is comfort that the moon comes back;

and the Latin, miluus, a toy for the Festival of Rise Towards the Sky.

In Afrikaans voilvlieg must be the unlikelihood that a bird seen once

on a tree would ever return. In Esperanto, I believe milvo

may capture most concisely “an elevator that can be steered.”

More words are needed:

Kitarsis: the flying of a kite soaked in one’s bad luck and illness

until it disappears; the letting go of the string of such a kite.

Kitekin: a miniature kite flown at the fetes for conceptions of royal successors.

Pismo domine: a letter to a deceased relative, flown at the end of a string.

Requeste de l’aire: a marriage proposal made while flying a kite hung with small, colored candle lanterns; alternatively, a kite flown with the question,

“What is the nature of my future?”

But stop. Enough.

Word is to string,

page is to kite,

as snail is to butterfly.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Zev Shanken on March 25, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    I loved this when I heard you read it in Teaneck last Satuday night, and love it more now that I read it on line. I read it in the hard copy I bought too. All three ways it’s great. Must be the poem. — Zev Shanken


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