A Hymn to the Vowels
A seller and a buyer
on a Sumerian street,
concluding a deal,
to write a receipt
they drew a line
with a stick in the clay,
and that line kept going—
down the street,
across the ocean,
through the years—
into the heart
of this poem today.
Every good boy does fine,
but what about girls?
And what about the trees that can’t talk,
the beasts and the birds
and the ice and the rocks?
The Dinka language has 84 vowels,
and Tibetan, it is said, is the hardest to spell.
Every good vowel does fine;
and even the bad ones do pretty well.
I still remember children’s books:
Once upon a time
a fairy tale told in rhyme
revealed how these magic shapes
conduct ideas from mind
to hand to eye to mind.
O mighty alphabet, you have ab(c)ducted us!
Now there are no concepts without names,
no names unsigned,
no signs unread.
How does one render November rain
into the patterns of poetry?
Or, it could be
you came here from an airless world
where there is no use
for spoken words,
where abiotic entities engage
in dialogs of bits and bytes
while deaf to all the voices of the universe.
You cannot know
the ecstasy of Ah,
the rhapsody of Oo.
You will never have I;
you will only have U.
Our heads are our cathedrals;
thoughts reverberate within.
Out of the unlikeness,
the thing, the shadow of the thing:
Where does one end and the other begin?
We start with just our breath, and then a name,
but naming and being are not the same.
To unravel the mystery,
let us return to where it all began,
back to the line in the clay that sang
in mystic moans and holy howls,
then follow that line five thousand years,
and bow to the immortal vowels.