by Rose Lemberg

I have scratched off these cave-walls
the abjad in which the self is transcribed,
that script without vowels, desert-parched, unaware
of oceans - but a sheen of sweat
rises from the walls like dew,
three thousand years after the miners.

I don't need to return here,
where I've toiled these lives and years ago,
a turquoise miner who paid the stone back in tears,
who carved crooked symbols when nobody watched.
I have been here, I have passed,
with only myself to erase me
bending down from future immemorial.

Circumscribed by sweat and turquoise dust, hidden
in folds of the star-embroidered night,
I dreamed myself into this future, not knowing
of perils - of  sorrows that constrict me
tighter than collars of blistering stone. I did not think
that I would forget me, and yet grieve
for languages that have been lost between us,
three thousand years of mothers' names gone.

I have erased and reascribed
both of us onto the stone page of my story.
Easy to say that nothing's been lost
but I don't know what I am overwriting
when none is here to slap my wrist.
How can I speak for us even if you're me,
type what it felt to wake in that cave-mine hungry,
to scratch wordselves into the indifferent rock?

But our abjads are almost the same;
I carve resh for my name,
for memory's not the extent of it, not
when the dry desert wind still blows between us.


Rose Lemberg is an immigrant from three countries. Her prose and poetry appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex, Goblin Fruit, Through the Gate, Mythic Delirium, Fantasy Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other venues. She edits Stone Telling with Shweta Narayan. Rose can be found at and her Livejournal blog.

This poem has been inspired by teaching early writing systems and non-Indo-European language family trees.

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