“To the Lonely Hearts Language Club”
when the work is done
and the children are in bed
and the roar of the freeway is quieted
and the house cools and darkens into stillness,
She holds in her hand the pages
on which rest spidery symbols
of sounds whispered by dying grandmothers
and written down by a crazed linguist, long dead too,
of words spoken for the final time generations ago
entombed now in perpetual silence,
the last sound waves decayed into carbon traces
in a paper monument to the passing of a language from this earth.
Called each night by a power beyond her understanding
She lifts a page into her circle of light
and begins a ceremony of resurrection.
The pencil scratchings that encase the grandmothers’ gifts
fall away and the words reawaken;
Her voice frees them one by one
and then they fly into the night,
echoing into and out of corners.
The air vibrates with their saying.
The world resonates with their being.
—poem written by linguist Leanne Hinton for California Indian women who are revitalizing languages.