We learned in corners and silences, of the cow
whose farmer had a red house. The sounds strange,
in new lands we knew no supposed foreign words.
Names had changed at registry, windowsills flew
flags, secret thought cloaked syllables others
stalked, covered beneath these school book tales.
How dawn unfolded time, steam rising from
sunlit clearings, ageless; baying as outlanders
came, hurried flight to sunrise; words swore.
Where copse broke to field were those come in winter,
in ring house glade hid renegades, by ill means
gone to children’s slumber; betrayal a fell weapon.
First words: farmer, cow; clear as the suddenness
by which river’s mist had lifted, revealing timber span
come upon it in the night; spear glint menacing above.
The red house and cow were tokens of times gone
to flames, left to ruin for spite; words in a book became
ridgeline fires over some legion’s last forlorn camp.
Pages, pictures, cow, house, scripture: an abyss
behind the farmer’s smile from whose deep ocean,
ancient words we learned before Sunday Supper.
The truths of farmer and house from the book
upon her knees above, years after some okay Joe
with a Latin prize and bombsight had pancaked it flat.
This was the secret language; knowing with ill ease
how long silent words were again spoken, we sensed
the entry of another world in this doubtful universe.
Knowing though the words were plain household
barter, their unmistakable truth remained invisible,
this was the final secret language; fateful stillness.
The timeless speech an undivided whole, whose drum
head parade of words, paced to halt at sentence’s end,
as if moving all so quietly to such measure; there stood
the farmer, there red house, there cow, there another
world wherein they become sustained, beneath the earth,
where words of the missing coursed below.
The pasture was the reenactment of an ancient rite:
the forlorn, bereaved of a world and those within,
in endless columns wrapped in dust and silence;
the distant expression of the faces of the elders
in camps’ mean squalor; the empty pursuits of those
who waited while we darkly mimed fearful words.
Yet, there were farmer and cow, in the burgeoning
sprawl of thoroughfare cities, below billboard images
of a secret speech that had been distilled down to
the single glint of a tooth in a smile, and presented in
the void of futuristic dialects, as lukewarm as the content
in children’s readers once had been, so very long before.
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