We use our languages like barbed-wire fences to keep the strangers out.
Tacking up "No Trespassing" signs in our mother tongues,
We use our words like weapons to protect our native sons and daughters
From the barbarians at the gate.
(Those foreigners who don't pronounce their r's and l's like we do.)
Mogli e buoi dei paesi tuoi.
Better to look for wives and cows in your own hometown
Than in villages far from home
As some Italians like to say.
Why wander the world in search of love and money
When we all know that the journey ends at exactly the same place where it began?
Why build a Tower of Babel
When love and truth and beauty need no translation?
We talk of multiculturalism,
The United Nations, the European Union, a global partnership to stop climate change.
Isn't that why the Roman Empire crashed and burned?
Because they tried to herd everyone from Scots to Persians under one big tent?
What's the point of getting lost in translation
When the Inuit have a hundred words for snow
And here in America we have dozens of different names for the sweet, black liquid that Starbucks pours into our paper cups each morning?
We all see the world from own perspective, through a glass darkly,
And use different words to describe it.
And what's wrong with that?
Let's call it a day or a tag or a giorno.
Let's slap on labels so we'll all know who's who and what's what
And who belongs to the club and who doesn't.
Whether we're wearing business suits or burkas,
Head scarves or yarmulkes,
We're still tribes, warring and sacking and grabbing
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,
Forgetting nothing and learning nothing, either.
Despite all our technological advances, the Old School will always be in fashion.
This is why the story of civilization so often ends in tears,
With a stream of well-heeled refugees clutching their possessions
And scrambling to find another place to hang their hats and raise their kids.
Statues fall, buildings crumble and the victors burn the books
And the people who wrote them.
And then the cycle begins anew
With a handful of ragged scribes
Preserving the scraps of knowledge that survived the fire,
With words -- only words -- to keep them company
Throughout that long and lonely night.
Dec. 13, 2015