I listened to a foreign language.
I watched the speaker’s face
to feel the emotion conveyed.
I watched the speaker’s body
for the commitment to what was said,
for the integrity of feeling.
But I listened to the language,
the syllables that rolled off the palate,
the vowels so similar to mine
yet sitting in unfamiliar terrain,
like staring at a photo negative,
recognising the basic elements,
but not understanding how they complete the picture.
I listened to the language,
picking at combinations of consonants that
seldom appear on my tongue,
feeling the bricks they form in my mouth
so that I can build a landscape of the word
and its possible meanings.
I marvel at how graceful language flows,
waterfalling into my ears with exotic rhythm,
transporting me to its country of origin
and painting a vague portrait of the people that speak it.
The speaker is an acrobat to me,
intelligent, interesting, graceful,
but when my language is spoken
the speaker turns clumsy and stupid.
To hear that foreign language
then its translation,
is rediscovery of my own,
and I marvel at the diversity of the world.
To think that in another language
“heart” and “hope” actually rhyme,
that “death” and “release” spring from similar consonants,
and that there are more ways to say “peace”
than there are to say “war”.
copyright 2000 Simon Lenthen