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Thursday, August 20, 2009


by David Chorlton

As certain colours fade when
the light to which they are exposed
eats into them

a language fades to silence
on its final speaker’s tongue

when he tries to remember the name
of the bright red birds
he used to see all the time

but they no longer answer
his calls

and nobody knows how to ask him
where they are.

When millions turn into thousands
there are still enough to count
without worrying about
missing noughts.
When thousands

are hundreds
we see them as if
they were all
that ever lived.
The hundreds

are a dozen
but each of them remains
as lovely as they were
when common.
A dozen soon

is two. Then
the last one
sings from
a branch
and we listen

as if it
had nothing
to concern it.

A bird’s plumage in the light
of intense observation
first turns white
and then invisible,
but from the trees

where it has lived for so long
its call continues
to ring against the leaves.
Its language is all that remains

of foraging and flying,
of scratching in the soil,
of bringing each new brood
to fledge, and those who heard it

talk about how much it meant to them.
They formulate their words
in many ways
to say

it sounded like this or like this
and they try again to replicate
the particular notes

but survival has no synonym.

The last word from a language in decline
survives as a call for help
but nobody alive understands it.

It has always been a word
considered lovely, whether spoken
or as script

with the trailing lines of a pen
ornamenting its consonants
and a loop at the centre

of the interlocking syllables
where the music of its vowels
has existed since anyone can remember

the slanted lines of sunlight
in the forest. Then came clearcutting
of the ancient alphabet

which took away the letters used
to spell the word, so all that remains
is the sound

as it flies from someone’s tongue
in desperation to be understood
as more than beauty.

The sound of rain became a word.
It didn’t need an alphabet
in order to exist; people spoke it
and the sky went dark.
They knew the power of speech
when the first drops fell.

Many gathered when the earth was dry
and their voices rang as thunder.
The word was never written down.
It remained in its native region
where it never failed to break
a drought. But many of its speakers

went away while others died
and in the absence of books
there was no rain
when there was no word to describe it.

Syntax unravels. Punctuation
slips between the lines.
The words do their best to hold together

by rhyming or as phrases
but don’t know when
a letter should be upper case
and without leadership

they fall into a state
of fragmentation. Then the verbs
grow tired

and pale into invisibility.
Nouns resist the longest.
They dig into the page the way they remember
from when type was set by hand
one letter at a time. The adjectives

promise to hold on
as long as there is something to describe
but even the nouns

surrender and in time
everyone forgets
what they mean. When the adverbs

collapse, nobody comes to save them.
What use can gracefully be

without fly to precede it? When do we say
melodious when there is
no singing?

David Chorlton watches the world from central Phoenix where he lives and writes. His new chapbook, From the Age of Miracles, appears this summer from Slipstream Press as the winner of its latest competition.