The Last Two Speakers of Nuumte Oote Are No Longer Talking to Each Other

We can only speculate as to the reason: possibly an insult
delivered as the last payload of a dying tongue,
thick with the dull slap of centuries of instruction,
romance and offence. Religion or village politics
may be to blame, or a disagreement about the language itself,
which they remember differently and cannot reconcile.
In any case, they are the only ones
who speak in what translates as the true voice
and they keep it to themselves.
Now we in the National Indigenous Language Institute
rush to fill our dictionaries with unspoken epigrams,
desperate to catch an utterance, however mundane,
to overwrite the static on our dictaphones.

This is why ghosts are rarely heard to speak.
For them, all meaning is fixed. There is no present
or future tense and no new questions can be asked.
Address them and you risk conspiring with the absolute
because to see an unpronounceable is your bad luck,
to tempt it with enquiry, worse. Should it reply, you’ll be marked
by what you know, though almost certainly deceived as well.
Such demons lack the true voice, they manipulate
sounds in approximation of what they mean,
always to bring catastrophe. Two months here
and already the translation guide is full of them.

Only we in the National Institute of Indigenous Languages
can tell you how soon a way of knowing
dries up like a river if you don’t speak it every day.
The last two speakers of Nuumte Oote knew how to purse
their lips around the truth but the meaning’s gone,
already breaking the ground where veracity
waits to flow into the world as symbol,
metaphor and narrative; a forest sunrise
seen by a thousand hunters as a thousand stars;
digression, rhyme, mythology and lies.