For Anne Stevenson
All language is the translation of hungers into sounds
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.