Two Contemporary Poets

Spring, 2004

Ioanna Warwick

Bird Milk

What is Polish?
    - A dead language.
         A. Huxley, Brave New World 

They'll be devoured
by history's black hole -
chunks of consonants
thick as kroopnik, lump soup;
oh naked and shivering world without
lumpy kroopnik, bone-warming barley stew.
It will be a harder place
when the word for pillow is lost,
podooshka, under-the-ears.

The shoom that hums inside
a seashell will fall silent.
Leaves will stop dead in the air
in midst of shelest,
the leafy litanies of rustling.
Autumn scholars will scan the archaic
flutiness of vyosna, spring;
klekot, castanet-like clatter
when around ponds in the reeds
storks clap their good-luck beaks.

Less tender, a world bereft
of coy curses meant as a blessing;
less pampered, thirsty for "bird milk" -
a favorite of my Great Aunt Klotylda
whom father loved to imitate,
chirping like a deranged canary.

Pursing her crimson silent-movie mouth,
Great Aunt Klotylda would remark
about Aunt Mooshka, Little Fly,
"Such a princess,
you'd think she bathed in bird milk - "
or about Loosh, the family's
Napoleon of business,
"Lucky Loosh, the only thing he lacks
is bird milk."

If we're lucky, and there is a United World,
the only thing that will lack is bird milk.
Not a drop of bird milk
once the language dries
to the dust of the past tense.

If it can be imagined,
it has already happened.
Already ancestral, the steep speech
of Carpathian village roofs,
open vowels of wooden churches;
already the birdlike
idiom of the dead,
untranslatable as childhood.

To words falling like leaves and stars,
I raise a toast with bird milk.

Note: The Polish spelling has been changed in order to make pronunciation easier for the English-speaking reader.