Tuesday, 8 December 2015

TV-Tower of Babel

Out of the telly streams a Tagalog tangle

From a woman who looks like she'd think it new-fangled

To purchase a lawnmower or even a car

(In fairness, the signs're all Greek now. She wouldn't get far). 

I pause at my desk like a frozen cartoon,

Hoping Remote Control God will tell me when to resume,

And sitting transfixed I begin to reflect

On what sort of programme they'll be serving up next.

There might be a schedule, but that's rarely obeyed. 

What's that they said about plans best-laid?

There's nowt on't'box but foreigners, my gaffer'd think,

But if you're afraid you're not hard to hoodwink. 

No, what frightens me is not the river of blood -

Rather the prospect that some think it's just mud. 

To others it's mouthwash; to others still, lead;

And none can determine its exact shade of red. 

"That's no cause for alarm! A civilised nation

Should have no trouble at all with mere demarcation."

So they keep saying, on the idiot's lantern,

On the wireless, the newsstand - always the same phantom. 

But as months pile upon years in little clay pits

I can't help but panic. My tongue ups and quits.

It just stops in its tracks and has nothing to say

Fearing its cosy syllables won't outlive the fray. 

"But English, I tell you! Such grandeur, such verve!"

To suggest it's all nonsense would touch quite the nerve. 

This realisation, alas, is no doubt belated. 

Rhyming couplets themselves are pretty outdated. 

But an idiotic idiom that does hold some truth -

"Better late than never" - provides me my proof. 

A treasury of tongues can never be filled

If we have learned nothing from the wordsmiths we killed. 

If we do not, if we trample alien vowels, 

No matter the efforts of future archeologists' trowels,

We can't revive the extinct. And the worst thing of all, 

The one thing we won't see till we're up 'gainst the wall:

Murder unknown consonants, and you drag us all down - 

For your words themselves do nothing but drown. 

When the broadcasters send out their last bleeps and moans

Your tongue strangles itself. For it does not know its own.

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