poetic digression

Aurolyn Luykx aurolynluykx at yahoo.com
Tue Mar 22 16:56:56 UTC 2005

Forgive the digression, but given the contentiousness
of some recent postings, I thought the list might
welcome this poem from Diane Ackerman, sure to stir
the heart of any linguist.

During Spanish, a young girl
resumes her lament, briskly,
in a blood-chilling monotone,
“My father is very sick,
he is growing thin and pale.
Yes, my mother is sick, too,
and we are terribly worried . . .”
For half an hour, a slim
marzipany voice renders color,
fruit and weather in French.
He orders lunch in a café,
then his mood sours.  “I was hungry!”
he moans to his tape recorder
and, mispronouncing only one vowel,
says instead: “I had a woman!”
Sniggers from the Belgians
and Ghanaians.  A black face
drifts round the booth wall
like a nimbus.  “Faim, not femme!”
He wags a long finger.
“Bad trouble you mix them.”
Hunched over a machine, a Syrian mutters, “I am not
your sister.  I am nobody’s sister . . .”
A Bolivian boy waves
from a corner seat, his teeth fiery in the bomb-bright
“Hola, Diana!
How’s your sick family today?”
His new English wobbles
like a first bicycle.
“Bout the same,” I answer,
dragging off my headset,
“Mom’s dying; dad’s still
in that same auto wreck.”
“I’m sorry, so terribly sorry,”
a Korean vows, as if telling
Hail Marys, “so sorry,
so terribly sorry, so sorry . . .”
while a spiky redhead repents
in Portuguese for all the heresy and lust
she looks forward to.
Only false gods rule
in this Babel of curt pleas
and one-syllable verbs,
where the heart’s always blunt
enough to slap a noun on,
and, too willingly, the felt
dissolves in the sayable.
The room swells with an extra
Afghan, Thai or Swede.
And the occasional onlooker,
trying to make sense of it,
finds the world shrunk
to twenty-five bright islands,
an archipelago of madness and regret.

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