Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "In Language Gender Is Particularly Confusing"

This poem came out of the November 5, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] kelkyag. It fills the "Gender Markers" square in my 11-1-19 card for the [community profile] transbingo fest. This poem has been posted in barter with [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the series Monster House.

"In Language Gender Is Particularly Confusing"

The lurking shadow is
older than human language,
or at least, it has observed humans
before they began talking in more
than grunts and waved fists
in the area where it lurked.

Language had come later,
a raised eyebrow here,
a lilted vowel there.

The lurking shadow
has listened and learned,
words flowing like water,
soaking into its substance.

Its voice, when it speaks,
is the dry rustle of leaves
rubbing together in the wind.

It has learned the names of things --
so many names, so many things --
and let them go again when
they're not longer needed.

It remembers, though, when
it stops to think of the past.

In language, gender is
particularly confusing.

Why should a table be male
in German, female in French,
and castrated in English?

The lurking shadow does not know.

It has been called "he" and "she"
and "it' and other things as well.

The family it lives with now
seems to favor "he."

That is fine. So were
the other things. It's not
like the lurking shadow
has any of the sex parts
that the humans do.

It hasn't got a brain
or a larynx or a gonad.

It doesn't need any of those.

The lurking shadow is
a whisper in the darkness,
exactly as it is meant to be.

It doesn't understand gender,
but then it doesn't need to --
it can remember what the humans
said about the things they named.

Sometimes, when it sees one of
the lost ones wandering unnamed,
it whispers an old word into the wind.

Nobody knows where it comes from,
but then, they don't need to know that
in order to follow the hint to the library.

* * *


"In language gender is particularly confusing. Why, please, should a table be male in German, female in French, and castrated in English?"
-- Marlene Dietrich

"Men and women are differentiated biologically in two ways that seem directly relevant to language. One has to do with the larynx, and the other with the brain."
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, linguistics, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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