Praise be to God for confounding our tongues and scattering us into exile
like chaff in a stray wind or the fig seeds dropped by a green iguacaon on a hogplum.
Confusion is sweetest chirimoya on a dry tongue.
Hymns of disorder bring bountiful harvests in times of drought,
And perhaps only cross-eyes can see in chaos serene mandalas.
I shout from the top of my Babel’s tower sown as a kapok tree—
Blessed are the dialects, the patois, the argots, and the pidgins;
the half-breed word-hoards and the mongrel grammars; the geechees,
the calós, and the ghost words; those hallowed languages gone dead
or worse extinct because of genocide or conquest or just time’s erosion,
yet how we must mourn each one in our bones, hearts, spleens;
then join hands by the sea at dawn to chant their names in flames
of gumbo-limbo, O so many to remember: Elmolo, Mawa, Ba-Shu,
Koibal, Guanche, Calusa, Wichita, and the Taíno of my own island—
Kubanakán—whose words linger past the cyclones of our sadness
like flotsam chromosomes or castaway fossils of such beautiful amber
as barbacoa, canoa, fotuto, hamaca, iguana, malanga, tabaco, yuca.
With these words I make machines of memory in flesh and marrow.
With these words I glide and cleave the tidal waves of history.
With these words I take root in the quicksands of diaspora.
Copyright © 2021 by Orlando Ricardo Menes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.