On hearing Gaelic being spoken on the street in Tobermory
Alexander McCall Smith

The ear is unprepared: the angle of vowels can change as suddenly,
As the sky’s furniture changes here, in the lee of the Atlantic;

English can be heavy, and exact; can limit our freedom,
To speak with wistfulness about things that are vague and liquid,

Things that can only be understood in the light of a very long history,
And of a sense of belonging, being of a place rather than from it.

Each year we lose so many languages – linguistic obituarists
Record their death, write of the last known speaker;

How lonely to be the last one to know the words, to know
What sounds once filled the silences that are now all that remain,

Like the long hiss at the end of a long-playing record,
When the needle remains in the groove, and the music fades away.

The words, like fallen leaves, are swept away; the young man
Cannot tell his girl her eyes are the colour of a certain sort of sea;

She cannot tell him that his skin is smooth like the surface
Of the rock they once could name, that love

Has filled her heart with the fluttering of birds
Whose flight can no longer be believed, nor told.

Advertisements