Listen:

I don’t know what to think of first
in the list

of all the things that are disappearing: Fishes, birds, trees, flowers, bees,

and languages too. They say that if historical rates are averaged, a language will die
every four months.

In the time it takes to say I love you, or move in with someone, or admit to the child
you’re carrying, all the intricate words of a language become extinct.

There’s too many things to hold in the palm of the brain.

Your father uses the word thing to describe many different nouns and we guess
the word he means. When we get it right, he nods as if it’s obvious.

When we get it wrong, his face closes like a fist.

Out walking in the neighborhood, there’s a wide metal lamp post
that has scratched into it, Brandy Earlywine loves Jack Pickett and then there
come the hearts. The barrage of hearts scratched over and over as if,

just in case we have forgotten the word love, we will know its symbol. As if,
Miss Earlywine wanted us to know that, even after she and Mr. Pickett

have passed on, their real hearts stopped—the ones that don’t look anything
like those little symbols—they frantically, furiously, late one night under

the streetlight while their parents thought they were asleep, inscribed
onto the body of the something like a permanent tree, a heart—

so that even after their bodies ceased to be bodies,

their mouths no longer capable of words, that universal shape will tell you
how she felt, one blue evening, long ago, when there were still 7,000

languages that named and honored the plants and animals each in their
own way, when your father said thing and we knew what it meant,

and the bees were big and round and buzzing.

Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku.

Ada Limón

Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things: Poems, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a finalist for the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Award, and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by the New York Times.