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. Educated at Oxford, her poems appear in over thirty journals and have been translated into five languages. She is a Fellow at the Exploratorium, a Salzburg Global Fellow, and Principal Advisor on Human Potential for UN Live, the Museum for the United Nations, where she leads research on issues such as climate change engagement. She is currently writing a book of lyric essays about the brain.

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