“SYNTAX” by Ken Poyner


It is a mystery for some, but not for me.  I have seen it before, and you only have to see it once to be hooked.  It gets into the sinew of you and you cannot help but feel it is both wrong and right, normal and misshapen.  Common and special.

It starts out as an individual thing.  Individuals begin to lose their nouns. They lose their words for places; then they begin to lose their words for things they do not see very often.  Soon, though, it is things and implements that they do see often, that they use and understand. Not long, and the contents of their own living rooms in the majority are not namable, are corporeal but not conversationally a reference other than by direction.

The nouns go.  They do not whisper one last utility and then vanish, nor do they fire out in screams and then collapse in to a woeful spit of flame. No.  You can go down to any drain and see the nouns caught in the eddies created when anything draining away backs up against trash or leaves or anything that makes for a breakwater.  Nouns swirling in meaningless whirlpools, caught in debris at the edges of clipped front yards.

You might fish them out, pen them to a backyard clothesline – in time, use them again.  No one has thought of it.

Soon the individual phenomenon becomes social.  People who have lost nouns realize others – their neighbors and commercial associates – have lost the exact same nouns.  Or at least have lost nouns that are applied in the same way, used in similar circumstances, employed as anchors to conversations embracing the same subjects.  Nouns that in one way or another occupy, for more than one person, the same space – if, nonetheless, for each individual bent just slightly differently around the mystery of syntax.

People note that some have lost nouns primarily around the house; others in more public and wide windy spaces; some in travel alone.

It is only natural that those with similar losses would band together, find in each other’s experiences a common purpose, or at least a common hand.  Even given the similarities, how could someone still retaining most of the nouns for his second story bedroom relate substantively to someone who could not reference his second story at all?

This is not the mystery.  Like to like gather; citizens of similar loss make pact.  But then, so divided and collected, they all continue to lose nouns and ever more are all one and the same:  a collection of divisions grown comfortable but indistinguishable. What once was safety in sameness, now is but pockets of safety, each safe zone an identical light in the dark.

As the nouns grow ever more scarce, sentences begin to lean heavily on their verbs.  Many sentences are resolved to remain incomplete. In fact, it becomes the fashion: short, choppy stabs at meaning.  The speed of everything accelerates. Action. Direction. Order.

Adverbs.  A conjunction.  An article. One marooned noun now and again.  If they cannot define themselves with their nouns, the afflicted will fall to applying their verbs to the problem, to their possessions, to their loved ones.

Verbs that move and angle and propel and position and play and placate and render and uproot and plan.

The last remaining nouns are not yet lost.  Each is happy for a while to be the sole affection of the crowd, and they remain happily intent for as long as they can, relishing the celebrity of scarcity.  But soon the elasticity of the need for them becomes too great. They begin to fray; they begin to hold more meaning than they can focus. They tire. Soon, worn and threadbare and looking almost like verbs unfed, they elect to go.

The last nouns pack what they can salvage from the action-heavy sentences that they have been left to buttress, and walk out of town under cover of the last stand of the adverbials.

The next morning there is nothing but activity in the citizenry’s eyes.  Muscles do not know they are muscles, but they tense prepared for the day’s non-stop eviction of energy, for the coming and going, the racing and the slowing.  Mouths form into the train stations of onrushing blind activity, of continuing and continuing and continuing without the need for conclusion or destination. It is amazing how much dead weight nouns could be.

It is no mystery, not to me, none.  I have seen it before. I ask, without a pronoun, why in all of this would I act?  But hearing is only hearing; listening is only listening; understanding is only understanding.

It is time for me to leave.  I must get home while the house is but a blur and arriving leads to settling leads to resting leads to rejuvenation leads to the wife saying whoever you are:  I am prepared. I am prepared. I am hoping it will become a mystery, though what was once a means to an end is now only a means.


Ken’s seventh book, his third collection of mini-fictions, “The Revenge of the House Hurlers” should be available at largely any bookselling site, and possibly a misguided bookstore or two, around the first of February, 2019.  Four of his previous six books are still in print, and two of those are mini-fictions also.


Constant Animals, 42 unruly fictions

Victims of a Failed Civics, speculative poetry

The Book of Robot, speculative poetry

Avenging Cartography, 55 bizarre fictions

Available at www.barkingmoosepress.com,

www.amazon.com,  www.sundialbooks.net,

and most bookselling web sites.

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