At first my favorite of the twenty untranslatables
is the Portuguese for running one’s fingers
tenderly through the beloved’s hair,

but then C. mentions lice,
so now it’s iktsuarpok, Inuit
for “go outside, darling,

and check if anyone is coming,”
a word from a language that’s almost extinct,
and I think of that brink, of worlds falling off

gravelly verges into swamps of speechlessness
brimming with the misty ghosts of the ancestors,
all those dumb open mouths and nothing coming out

that anybody any longer understands,
everybody’s lips rounded in song
or the oooo of rising to an occasion,

like those trees that seem to be burning,
going up in October flames, igniting
the morning, the oak newly downed.

Was it still when the tree fell or did what lived
in its hollow core cry out when the pale grasses
lining its burrow were abruptly exposed?

Already the year-end tallying’s begun:
the time the leaves take getting ready to turn
divided by the months an animal spends sleeping,

added to the pages poets fill with words,
words that resist their own subtraction,
number of falls from number of loves,

those in the long-dead tongues
for what can’t be retrieved,

that for the nit-picked hair,
no longer shiny and glistening,

or the one for a braid
that thins as it ends.

Emily Wheeler’s poems have appeared in New Ohio Review, Massachusetts Review, and Contemporary Poets of New England, among others. She lives in Massachusetts.