In a Strange Land: 36th Post

Cloister ladies

Along with many of my closest friends and friends I don’t know yet, I often feel like I’m living in a landscape made hostile by the decisions, sometimes mere whims, of others over whom I have no control and with whom I doubt I could have a conversation that would include any meaningful mutual understanding. I wrote this poem many years ago, and enjoyed the self-imposed task of inventing a language and grammar to make it work, while also expressing the humor, homesickness, fear, and isolation that so often pushes one to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. It still feels true to me, so I share it today.

I’ve recited this poem at readings many times over the years, and it takes some rehearsal but is always fun to say aloud. To get you started, I’ll tell you that the speaker is a human writer living on another planet.


Please, come in.
Don’t be shy, take a seat.  Or,
I should say, extend your nemdops and lower your fleegrong’n.
—The candles?  Well, no, not for heat.  Does it bother you?  Sometimes,
for atmosphere,
—well, yes, they do use oxygen.  Never mind.
So, Pargffen, I hope this will be the first of many
—In English.  I plan to read in English.
(I cannot.  I will not.  I tried some lines:
fentonn reb fleedeep miss’rab soor
   nempebb, pebb nggit Pargffeen ho’or
The damned apostrophes are to be squeaked.
Insupportable.)  Shall we go on?
I’d like to begin with one of my early works that
—Yes, I understand your position on ownership.
I don’t own these words; I merely arrange them.
Shall I continue?  (This habit they have,
of putting reensamsam in their slomgrong’ni,
I should have expressly forbid it.)  All right.
This piece is called “Land of Rooms”
and I suppose I’d best explain a word or two:
Humans begin their lives as small, dependent creatures called children, who live in
“Insomnia” is an inability to sleep.  It is usually frustrating.  Many things cause it,
believe me.
Let’s see, do you know what a “mistake” is?
—I thought not.  (Why did I pick this one to read?)
It means doing something wrong, unintentionally.
Sometimes you get to try again.
I think you’ll understand the rest.  Wait,
do you know “silence”?  (No,   no,   no,   no.)
Silence is the absence of sound.  As if your dapgrong’ni stopped working.
—But that’s possible to imagine, isn’t it?  Listen,
silence is sometimes very pleasant.  Humans find it restful,
which, as you know, we like.  Now, let’s proceed.
—Yes, Hjǽm?  —Ahh.
The idea is that I will read and you will listen
or rather, p’liff with your dapgrong’ni,
and at the end, if you enjoyed it,
you will applaud.  —Umm, you could wave your dapgrong’ni,
or push one rarpeen against the other until a sound comes out.  —Oh,
I had no idea.  Well,
how might you show approval then?  Perhaps you could just
nod your bogrong’n.  (Can we settle on it, please?)  Shall I just begin?
—Yes, I have, actually, tried to.  Describing this place
has been…challenging, shall we say.
—No, I’m not ready to read that piece; it’s not right yet.  (Never again.
I shall never do this again.)  —You must believe me when I say it’s a slow process.
No telling when I’ll be ready to share that one.  Please,
please can we go on?  (Oh no, it’s nearly ffenzod’nǿth time.
I should have chosen another day.)  I say,
would you prefer that we do this another time?
—Pardon me, I forgot.  (All time one ocean
and all that, god damn this place, even if it is,
by hell, all places.)  I’ll just read
while you zod’nǿthne, if that’s all right.
—No, no, I’m not unhappy; please don’t think that.
(I know what they do to unhappy aliens, by god.)  And neither is my poem.
Suppose we do this:
you’ll zod’nǿthne; I’ll read,
you’ll applaud—somehow; I’ll go back to my quarters and work,
and then sleep.
I shall sleep while you zod’nǿthne.  In the same time.