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How Language Is Lost

by Jeff Cobb

The Emrys Press has recently released How Language Is Lost, a volume of poetry by sometime Mission to Learn contributor Celisa Steele. As readers here know, I am a fan of poetry in general, and as it happens, I am an even bigger fan of Celisa’s poetry specifically. The video below is of her reading the eponymous poem from the collection. The text of the poem is included at the end of this post. (I encourage listening before reading when it comes to poetry.)

From the perspective of Mission to Learn, I like this poem because I think it illustrates so well how much meaning a poem can capture and convey. That illustration is tinged with irony – poetry itself is a language lost to most of us. I hope you will give this a listen and a read. Share it, and also be sure to visit the Emrys Web site to find out how to get a copy of How Language Is Lost.

Here’s the text of Celisa’s poem:

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.

***

Here are reviews of Celisa’s book:

And be sure to visit Celisa’s Web site at http://www.celisasteele.com/ and follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/celisasteele

posted on May 23, 2011

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