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

Pireeni Sundaralingam is a cognitive scientist and poet. Her poems appear in over thirty journals, including Ploughshares and American Poetry Review. A Climate Change Fellow at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Global Salzburg Fellow, and lead strategist on human development for the United Nations Museum of Humanity, she is currently writing a book on poetry and the brain.

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