Dead Languages

My mother mutters in tongues under her breath,

scraping into the trash what we couldn’t clean

from our plates. In the living room, my grandmother

stubs her toe & hollers out a dark angelic curse. They say



a language dies every two weeks.

In the forest, the ornithologist sings

the songs of extinct birds: pagan reed-warbler,

honeycreeper, the bishop’s oo. Every year,



the children’s dictionary kicks more words out of its house:

Pansy. Adder. Sin. At the youth homeless mission,

the old prophet teethes new words for the boys

to gnash into a prayer. Chanting off-key scriptures



across town, the deacon tongues whatever dead

languages he can back to life. Silence has wolfed

his toddler down whole, the boy’s voice

a lightning bug caught in a jar. The last angel



sits on the counter after church & hums along

with my mother’s hymns. Our dishes clink softly

in the sink. A soap bubble, set loose, whispers up

into the unforgiving air. New words



birthed by the dictionary the year I was born

included genomics, degenderize, deathcare,

& anti-HIV. They came out ugly & wet, clumsy

as a newborn horse. Behind my mother’s back,



the angel is fading out, diffusing

into the junk mail & clutter, leaving everything

humming. The bubble quivers up, impossibly

up, floating out the window & beyond my mother’s



outstretched finger. Slit open by a broken

dish, it turns the sink water red as a plague,

a miracle. Wine-red stains blotched on her apron,

she blurts out something between a curse & a prayer.

Brandon Thurman is the author of the chapbook Strange Flesh (Quarterly West, 2018). His poetry can be found in the Adroit Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nashville Review, RHINO, and others. He lives in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with his husband and son. You can find him on Twitter @bthurman87.