Language Like Birds

November 2008 WLT 
Nov. 2008 WLT

It is Paris, Berlin, New York,

  it is any one of countless cities, any one

                  of endless lands in which we find ourselves,


our careless hurrying through crowds

  cut short, silenced in one moment


by the sight of teeth and hands and jaw,

   by the familiarity of bone.


These are the faces that reflect our own,

   the eyes of exiles that will search


and search again for patterns in the skin,

   kinship in the bones,

                  history in the hand-shape of strangers.


But we have no words to express our loss, no tools

   to measure out the length of our leaving.


Fleeing before the war’s black howl,

   we left behind language

                  words too heavy a burden to carry.


Destiny.                    Family.                      Fate.


These are the words that remain

   when we find each other in foreign lands,


when we break open each word of our language

   to share, to savor, to set free.


We open our throats and language,

   like birds, bursts from our lips, words


exploding across city streets, brief

   as the violence of gunfire.



San Francisco

Dedicated to examining the confluence of science and art, Pireeni Sundaralingam has received national fellowships in both cognitive science and poetry. Educated at Oxford, she has held scientific research posts at MIT and UCLA and is co-editor of Indivisible, the first national anthology of South Asian American poets (University of Arkansas Press, 2010). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Ploughshares and The Progressive and in various anthologies. Sundaralingam has spoken on the intersections between poetry and the brain at MOMA (New York), the Exploratorium, the de Young Fine Arts Museum (SF), and the “Life in Space” symposium at Studio Olafur Eliasson (Berlin). Her interview “Walking between Worlds” appeared in the March 2009 issue of WLT, and her poem “Language Like Birds” (WLT, Nov. 2008, 12) was nominated for a 2008 Pushcart Prize.

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