Learning Burmese: A Poem

Since being here in Myanmar, and somewhat uncharacteristically, I have started to occasionally write poetry. This is something I haven’t done for a very long time; and when I mentioned (confessed!) this over on Facebook, a few friends said they’d be interested to see what I’m up to.

So, with some hesitation, here’s something that I’ve been working on. I hope you enjoy it.

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Learning Burmese

At first, there is no language.
      There are only things and solitude.

Out of loneliness and need, I start to learn
      to call things by their names.

The weeks go past: I order tea,
      I ride the bus, I catch stray words,

and slowly, those soft sounds, those glottal stops,
      alien at first, become familiar.

But still, I know I’ll be a stranger,
      until I can speak of this:

of the bird that every morning
      comes to cry outside my window;

of how I long
      to know its name;

of how its song
      never fails to catch my heart.

Comments 3

  1. Bravo! So many contemporary poets are half-baked philosophers; I feel there’s plenty of room for a real philosopher to join our ranks. In this poem, the association of fluency with what’s beyond language is especially thought-provoking.

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  2. As someone who has occasionally written poetry, and is currently trying to learn Arabic, I can relate to your poem very closely. 🙂

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