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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Microfunded Poem: "Warning Sine"
This poem came out of the November 3, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from flutterbychild. "Warning Sine" contemplates the difficulty of communicating through deep time, when those to come will not understand old words or symbols. As Egypt is ancient, mysterious history to us ... so we will someday be to our descendants. Donors so far: miintikwa, stonetalker, janetmiles

EDIT 12/8/09: stonetalker has funded the remaining verses of this poem as a holiday gift to janetmiles. Happy holidays!

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. My usual rate for microfunded poems is $.50 per line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. In this case, we're dealing with a poem in the flat-fee range. So what I've done to make it fit is give you the first 10 lines and start counting from that point. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements.

50 lines, Buy It Now = $20
Amount donated = $3
Amount remaining to fund fully = $17
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1.50

EDIT 12/8/09: This poem is now FULLY FUNDED. The last portion was covered at half price as part of the 2009 Holiday Poetry Sale.

Warning Sine

Literacy goes up and down like a wave,
bobbing on the surface of civilization,
while time goes out like a tide.

When the pyramids were new,
and their cladding shone like silver
under the fierce desert sun, everyone
who was anyone could understand Egyptian.

The hieroglyphs on the walls were as clear as rain,
as bright as crocodile teeth in the Nile, and
for a time their protection held strong.

But Egypt fell, as all empires do, and
then the grave-robbers came, and plundered,
and died of ignorance and the Pharaoh’s cunning traps.

When the pale strangers came, they found wonderful things,
yes, and the dusty bones of raiders past, mysterious
legends and things they dared not believe.
Faded warnings glared at them
from the pocked walls.
They did not heed.

When they died,
their peers made up
logical explanations and
scoffed at the superstitions,
but history still recorded the plagues
and the sunken ships and flaming houses
and the strange sudden deaths difficult to describe.

Linguists came and studied the painted walls,
deciphering the hieroglyphs and guessing
at the sounds of the mummified tongue.
They told of the curse, reading off
the old warnings, learning
the lost language.

Now we bury our
garbage in pyramids,
wrap it with warnings in
our own language and symbols.
We believe that those who come after
will understand what we have written there:
Danger! Do not enter! Toxic waste dump within!

To our distant descendants, these will be cryptic writings
that no one knows how to read, attracting scholars
to decipher them and archaeologists to dig
through the remnants of the midden.
The cancers that kill them will be
as mysterious as mummy rot,
fragments of a lost science
they do not understand.

Deep time is a
leviathan that swallows
down all languages in the end.

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Current Mood: busy busy

9 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: November 9th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm looking forward to more of this one!
lord_caramac From: lord_caramac Date: November 23rd, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Damn, I wish I had more money to give...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 23rd, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC) (Link)


I sympathize. I feel that way about many fine projects by other people. So, what I do is promote my favorite projects in hopes of reaching someone else who does have money to donate toward them. Similarly, you could link to this poem on your blog and encourage your readers to come see it. Maybe some of them will chip in.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback! I'm glad that people are enjoying the poem.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: December 8th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Brr, and likewise eerie, and likewise ooh, nifty!

And thank you, stonetalker! This is a most marvelous poem.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 10th, 2009 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I like reminding people that, to our descendants, we will be dim confusticating history. I'm glad it worked for you in this poem.
miintikwa From: miintikwa Date: December 8th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yay! This is marvelous!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 10th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that.
lord_caramac From: lord_caramac Date: December 8th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wonder whether anybody will understand this sign in 8000 years... and that is not even a tenth of the time that kind of waste will have to be kept safe.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 10th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC) (Link)


They might not know what it meant. Recognizing it as "dangerous" is possible, though -- because nature also uses bold designs of black and yellow to indicate Don't Mess With this. Frex, yellowjackets or certain types of poison arrow frogs.

The biohazard design is even better, though, because it uses the "thorn" shape that makes the hindbrain think "sharp = dangerous."
9 comments or Leave a comment