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                                        For Anne Stevenson

 

 All language is the translation of hungers into sounds

                                                    Michele Roberts

 

Language lies on the tongue.

Its babble rises from hungers

in the dark; in a need for answers;

in black water, stiff with ice.

 

Fire, food, warmth, water - words

of people finding sounds can signify.

Rhythms of words beaten out

in dancing feet or echoing drums,

words - the first ordering of sense.

 

'I see' is amazement,

'No' is power, and calling for things

brings them magically to hand. Words

too few to lie. Feel them in your mouth,

come to know their texture after the tongue

tires of rattles and spoons of slop.

 

Signs on the page that can speak

in the private mind mean stories

whenever they are wanted,

soothing a whining child to silence,

make a world to crawl inside, to travel time

and spin the galaxy like a roundabout.

 

Language on the page whispers 'I'm here',

when the writer's formless dust.

Take Catullus’ hendecasyllables -

insinuating hate, sharp insults centuries old,

to fit live tongues though his is dead.


 

 

From dead empires disseminated words

infect the air. In libraries

words sleep, waiting for readers' eyes

to wake them with a glance. Listen,

as soon as books open voices command,

babbling of hungers lying in the dark.