Word + Quiz: chiasmus

Word + Quiz: chiasmus

: inversion in the second of two parallel phrases

“No one has yet to begin a life who will not end it,” Mary Ruefle writes in “On Beginnings,” the first piece in her collected lectures, “Madness, Rack, and Honey.” It’s more of a lecture on endings, actually: “Not every poem is finished,” but an abandoned poem is not fully a poem, much as a life is not complete until it’s over.

…. The ostensible occasions of Ruefle’s poems are minor: not the funeral, but the bath. They record small moments with sweeping scope, moments in which the speed of thought seems to outpace real time. In the book’s title poem, an “I” and a “Mary” go bogging in rubber boots, among “orchids & mushrooms, mushrooms & orchids”:

There is in my house, she said, a stovelight

that never goes off. And in my car, I said,

there’s a dashlight that never goes off.

What warning has no end and ends without warning?

“Dunce” is full of these linguistic reversals — the chiasmus may be the device that best represents life’s reversal of fortune, our built-in obsolescence ….