Ritualwell

Tradition & Innovation

History of Languages

Before the Age of Misunderstanding,
The early people built a tower

They started with nouns:
Person—place—thing, held together with
Thick layers of verbs, question marks,
Colored bricks effusive
With figures of speech

“YOU” stuck to “HERE” with “ARE”
“ORANGE” described “MUSIC” and “SUNRISE”
Words begat sentences begat paragraphs, higher and higher

In the evening, lovers
Climbed to the top, dangled
Their feet in the clouds, breathless
Before the dizzying view

“I hope we never stop building,” he said,
“Who knows what we’ll create?”

The woman smeared his body with verbs
They sanctified each other
Worshipped the tower
And in the morning, everyone wondered
Who had laid more foundation
Overnight

But God had witnessed the lovers
As they witnessed Creation
Praying to the paragraphs
On which they stood

Before God’s eyes, it became
Epidemic, people blessing the tower,
Its adjectives and songs,
Hallowing skyward metaphors
Until at last, God regretted,
It was time to teach people
To misinterpret  

So when the man said, “Please pass the adjective; will you marry me?”
His lover laughed at the string of useless sounds
“What do you mean?” she babbled
It was a brick no one could answer

People clamped their hands over their mouths
As brave new words grew inside, struggling to escape

Foundations shook
Mortar cracked
Language collapsed

The man and woman touched each other’s faces
Searching for words that were no longer there
At last, they decided it was better
Not to speak
And learned to communicate
Without sound

The early people went on to misinterpret
God’s words, they told each other
“We climbed too high, God
Has punished our pride
With confusion”

Some finally stopped talking to God
Certain that God, too, 
Would misunderstand  

But people have always struggled
With foundations, mortar, and God
Didn’t mind the human desire
To build higher towers

It was their belief in language
That God punished  

Some words felt
Like marbles on her tongue
But they stuck to her lover’s teeth
Refusing to tumble to the floor
And some verbs tasted nostalgic
While certain questions set his mouth on fire

Still they were convinced that sounds
Meant the same thing in different mouths
That one language meant
One way of hearing

So the Tower of Babel collapsed
On its faulty foundations
And some people learned
To search for meaning in the din of sounds
While others still shout brick after brick
Trying, in vain, to be understood

Poem