Volume 42.3
Autmun 2011


sample haibun


Last Words of a Linguist

She lay with her head in my lap, no more than minutes from death.

Beiss' doch, ich helfe dir. I spoke to her in German in our normal way. Held a forefinger to her lips, encouraging her to take a bite. A way to release some of her pain perhaps. In her extremis, my

'You can’t help me now,' she said. Bit all the same, almost to the bone, blood trickling out vibrantly red. And she closed her eyes.

Her last words then in the last of the four languages she had learnt to speak, not her mother tongue. Adding a keen facet to the sense of rupture. Perhaps just to be understood and accepted when someone is on the brink of listening for the first time to whatever language or languages the angels speak.

Many years have passed since and an idle thought occurs, in what language my worn-out brain may choose to say my own last words. English? German? Thai? Even one of those languages I don't actually speak, but am sometimes fluent in when I dream. Russian? Italian? Dutch?

If a simple message will do, like goodbye, I can do it in so many languages ... adieu, auf Wiedersehen, phobgan mai na khrab, tot ziens, arrivederci, na svidenya, sayonara. Something no more complicated than that may do. If the blow strikes slowly I might have time to say them all.

sun dips to sea—
on my lips the taste
of far-off voices

by David Cobb



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