I've been reading The Professor and the Madman, so I have dictionaries on my mind and was reminded of this exquisite poem I first heard when I was in college.
My father at the dictionary stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand
His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word 'Carnation'. Then he bends
So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard
A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to every thing
That' s smaller than the universe." I bring
My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly
Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study's gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb
To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor
Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text
I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as "Christ's flowers," knowing I
Can give no explanation but "Because."
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does
Where following each X, I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, "A pink variety of Clove,
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh
Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,
He turns the page to "Clove" and reads aloud:
"The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud."
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,
He reads, "From French, for clou, meaning a nail."
He gazes, motionless,"Meaning a nail."
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,
I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth "Beloved", but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,
The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I've sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,
I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, "Daddy Daddy" -
My father's hand touches the injury
As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ's when I was four.
by Gjertrud Schnackenberg (from her book Supernatural Love : Poems 1976-1992)