The Synesthesia of Egrets

brook house 2

By John Brantingham

“Every explorer names his island formosa.” –Walker Piercy

I love the emotions of words, the way they move in your mouth, so that a word like “regret” vibrates back into the same place in your throat where that lump of sadness plants its flaccid flag. I love the joy present in words of discovery, words like “Formosa” or “Phoenix” that give you their energy. Explorers or town grandees looked upon their world and formed pride with their mouths. And I wonder who, then, named the egret, and what pain he was feeling when he used the same part of his throat. I imagine the explorer, a nobleman, claiming land from people who already lived on it, taking slaves and gold. Everything shines with the lust of wealth for him, even his crew, whom he pressed into service. He took them from their little English village in the middle of the night, farm boys who didn’t even know how to swim, put into the rigging of ships, working under the threat of the keelhaul. While the explorer surveys the wide expanse of his new world, he forms the words for “beautiful,” and that sad sailor cannot even raise his eyes beyond the lagoon where they are moored. He sees that long-legged bird wading peacefully near shore. He thinks of his girl a world away, now probably with a man who’d been lucky enough to stay home. He stares at that bird squawking its sadness and says, “egret, egret, egret.”

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