How Language Is Lost Unveiled

by Celisa Steele on May 24, 2011

How Language Is LostLast Tuesday I attended the Emrys Annual Meeting at the beautiful Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC (Who knew that Greenville has a museum row? Presumably lots of folks, just not I.) As part of the program, I read from the just unveiled How Language Is Lost, published by Emrys Press.

Jeff Cobb posted video of me reading the title poem from the chapbook on his Mission to Learn blog, and I’m including the text of the poem below.

 

How Language Is Lost

The Abipón had a word for
everything, even the invisible
amphitrichous spirits that
swam the Argentine Gran Chaco.

Wrestling, riding, raiding the Spanish for horses—
tributes to unseen gods (rabbit-like, prone to disappearing)—
gave way to farming, kneeling in naves.
Their own shamans couldn’t shape-shift anymore,
forgot the prophesied destruction—a vast yellow snake
swallowing rivers, trees whole—and crouched silently in the dust
as a clerk counted them like animals, like cattle,
sent his report back to court: 5,000 in 1750.

When King Carlos expelled the Jesuits in 1768,
half the Abipón had died of small pox.
The cleavage between this life and the old was complete.

Fifty years later, when a shriveled woman
with spiraled palm leaves in her pierced ears
and blue tattoos around her elbows lies on a straw mat
in a hut corner in Resistancia,
————————————————the younger woman—no relation—
cooking over a smoky fire and soothing a baby to sleep
does not understand her dying words,
her articulation of the world to come,
the world lost.

–Celisa Steele

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bill Griffin June 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Beautiful reading, Celisa, of a haunting and disturbing poem. A metaphor for so much that is slipping away from us, the great yellow snake already swallowing.

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