|Jul/Aug 2012 Poetry|
A Lost Language
A poet told this story to a traveler
on the Silk Road:
There was a village here, arable and temperate,
this river, as you see, gentle for centuries
as the deer who came to drink.
Gentle until, one night in spring,
it swelled, broke free and swallowed all;
village and villagers,
orchards and wine cups,
a red silk slipper, a bamboo flute,
two beetles born that hour,
a cypress six hundred years old,
buckets, books, an ivory comb.
And, as the last inhabitant fell still,
a language, too, was drowned.
It had been unique, spoken in no other place,
one devised without comparatives,
no footbridges of metaphor or simile.
Each object in nature was given its name.
Extending outward from that node,
each wore a corolla,
five-part, precise, of words
drawn in, breathed out, made purely
for the senses.
(Nothing, they believed, was mute.
A stone's erosion could be heard
by bending low, attending well)
In this way, fitting inevitably as skin,
as the oval bed that holds the pit,
the nesting seed,
there was one word, one only,
to speak the fragrance of a peach.
River and story may remain,
though the river, taking everything,
took, as well, its own six names.
Calm again since that spring night,
it sends a breath of reeds and mud,
still cools the throats of deer.
Elders and poets hear in its voice
a questioning they recognize,
something struggling to recall,
to find again what once was clear,
close to truth as skin to pulp,
pulp to cradled seed.