November 4th, 2009


Poem: "Pronouncements"

This poem came out of the November 3, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl. It was prompted by haikujaguar and sponsored by janetmiles.


It was perhaps regrettable
that the instructions for creating a golem
were written entirely in Hebrew
and that, in certain words,
the vowels made all the difference.

It was perhaps regrettable
that the directions to the tomb
that did not contain a mummy army
were written in heiroglyphs
which did not include vowels
but did have a variety of alternate meanings.

It was perhaps regrettable
that the Mad Arab wrote in Arabic,
where the vowels – though present – were
merely diacritical marks, easily obscured
by aging parchment and hungry bookworms,
and that the djinn were particular
about the pronunciation of names.

Certainly it was regrettable
that several students in Professor Derleth’s
“Historical Linguistics for Sorcerors” class
had failed to do their homework.

Poem: "Oxrows"

This poem came out of the November 3, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl. It was prompted and sponsored by janetmiles.


In the early days
when literacy was still learning itself
the lines were written back and forth:
boustrophedon, “as the ox plows.”

Only in later years
did we learn to unhitch the ox
from the hand, and even then,
some word-farmers went
from left to right
while others went right to left.

All that remains
is a handful of fragments
from before we stopped
plowing our way across a page –
old manuscripts, stone walls,
and the Rongorongo tablets.

Now our eyes
skim across the lines
and then flit back to the margin
to begin again

but we still
keep one eye on the furrow
and the other eye on the horizon.

Poem: "The Language of the Birds"

This poem came out of the November 3, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl. It was prompted by jenny_evergreen and sponsored by janetmiles.

The Language of the Birds

In the time before time,
it was the birds
who first eavesdropped upon the gods
and learned to speak.

Being closer to the heavens,
the birds flew high
and heard what was never meant
for mortal ears to hear.

They snatched up the words
with their beaks and flew away
while the gods swore and the goddesses
swatted at them with brooms.

To their dismay, the birds discovered
That thoughts are heavy things,
And so they dropped the words
Here and there across the world.

The words fell and fell,
And wherever they hit,
They cracked open like oysters
And released the goodness inside.

But they were never quite the same
After that, and the language of men
Was so different that only the wisest
Could understand the birds.

Since then, the language of the gods
Has been left largely to seers and priests,
And the language of birds is bequeathed
To madmen and poets.

Poem: "Dancing with the Beast of Tanagra"

This poem came out of the November 3, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl. It was prompted by stonetalker, cheered by several other people, and sponsored by janetmiles. It refers to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and there is a "Darmok Dictionary" online. I am really pleased to be able to share this with you, because "Darmok" was one of my favorite episodes and a splendid example of xenolinguistics.

Dancing with the Beast of Tanagra

“Darmok” –
This was the episode
I watched with my ears set to the screen
and a cup of tea cooling in my hands,
a friend and myself knee-to-knee on the floor,
both of us calling out translations and hypotheses
as quickly as we could think of them,
breathless and laughing,
even in the face of tragedy.

Even when we guessed wrong
and had to revise our ideas
      Shaka, when the walls fell
it was exhilirating just to stretch out
and fly beyond the boundaries of the human brain
into a language so vivid with imagery.

It reminded me instantly of the saying
that learning a new language
is like wrestling with an angel,
the object being not to win but to surrender,
brawl becoming embrace:
      Sokath, his eyes uncovered!

Every language is an ocean undiscovered,
an island untamed and dense with wilderness.
In every ocean there are deeps and storms,
on every island, beasts –
for to open yourself to a language
is to swallow its ideals and its reasoning
without ever knowing if it will destroy you
or reward your sacrifice with untold riches.
      Darmok and Jelad at Tanagra.
      Picard and Dathon at Eladril.

There is only the ocean and the jungle,
and the warmth of a friend by your side,
and the words in your ears like the beating of breakers
when you go forth to dance with the beast of Tanagra.

Open your mind like a door,
and believe that what you receive will be worth the risk.
      Temba, his arms wide.

Update: New Verses in "Choralia"

Another donation has come in, revealing four new verses of "Choralia." You can read the currently available verses on the original page. This poem is a first-contact tale involving music and xenolinguistics.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50 per line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements.

78 lines, Buy It Now = $39
Amount donated = $20
Amount remaining to fund fully = $19
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1