to think of sharks, I think of their teeth,
one tooth, the letter V held in my palm…
So, when I learned that some believe
the English word “shark”
comes from the Mayan word “xoc,”
and “xoc” can also mean “count,” I smiled.
Of course! one counts all of those teeth,
an endless-seeming wave of bone, up to fifty-thousand
produced over the course of one shark’s life.
Too bad there’s an instance of the word “shark”
in an English manuscript from the fifteenth century,
before anyone in Europe used the word “Maya,”
or thought to write “xoc” with a “x,”
that letter which, in English, we pronounce “z,”
as in “xenophobic Anglo-Americans
didn’t believe the Mayans were civilized,
despite all those pyramids and calendars,
and thus could not have a writing system…”
But for the Mayans, the “x” represents “sh,”
so “X-O-C” is pronounced “SHAHK,”
as in what the “shark” does when it smiles at you
and all you can do is “count” the seconds left before it bites.
Where does our “shark” swim from?
Xocingly, from the German word “Schurke,”
which means “scoundrel,” but also gave English
“shirk.” Shark. Shock. This is self-indulgent play,
yes, so I will return to səˈnekdəkē—
To think of people, I think of our mouths,
our lips parting, opening, joining, pursing,
smiling, frowning, forming a kiss
and plosives—our finite teeth, all fifty-two,
easily knocked out, irreplaceable—
and our tongues behind them,
like caged birds which struggle to fly,
but cannot, and so flutter against our teeth
and lips, forming vowels and affricates.
This is what I think about when I want to think about us:
how our mouths say, “xoc,” and “shark,”
these nests for the birds we call “language” in English,
and in Mayan, “T,’aan.’”
Information regarding the word “xoc” and its possible influence on English “shark” is drawn from Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. Coe, p. 141.