“Piraha” by Grace Bruenderman

Grace Bruenderman


Somewhere in Brazil
near the Amazon River
a tribe called the Piraha
lives and quivers
runs and slithers
as they curl and cling
to the Amazon bank
they sing as much as they talk
they “ohhhm” as much as they walk.

Because the Piraha have no language
for numbers or feelings
just colors and singing
and chanting and breathing.
“I love, I hate, I miss”
don’t exist.
I feel I feel they must
hate with no way of saying it
love with no way of praying it.
They’re forced to look to love
and if they hurt they must scream
and sometimes I wish we were the same.

Because right now I’m trying
to piece into words
a pain in my stomach that cannot
be a verb, and saying “I hurt”
isn’t going to cover it
this time.

I want everyone to see
my sick slick squished
blood ball of a heart
b-b-b-bounce from its socket
like the rocket that it was
ripped stripped from deep rich soil
watch my blood boil
and know that there are no words for this…
but I’ll try.

William Carlos Williams,
can you tell them
that there is no poetry but in things,
that there are no ideas but in things.
And if I looked how I felt inside
you’d have to break my teeth and
watch me still smile wide.
And if I scream,
is that still an idea?
Is that still po-e-try?
I have seen more poetry
than I have ever heard.

I see this rag-covered man
pushing a shopping cart
full of cans
trying to make
end-to-ends meet.
My eighty-six-year-old neighbor
planting geraniums and going crazy.
A chubby little sixth-grade girl
sitting at her lunch table
waiting for no one.
A boy letting go of my hand
telling me
he can’t hold me anymore
and there were and are
no words for that.

I am Pira-ha-HA.
Singing more than I talk
ooohming more than I walk.
Because sometimes the way you say it
say way you it
the way you ohh chh ohm
the way you tss-tss-tss
the way you pop pop pop
is more important than
what you say.

There’s a man,
limping down
the side of the road
missing an arm
trying hard not to starve,
and I both pity and envy him,
because at least his pain is visible.
A National Geographic photographer
could click-clack-attack his pain
with a double-wide lens
and the whole world might frown
for a moment,
scratch their brows for a moment
the whole world might
understand for a moment.

There is a tribe in Brazil
who feels too,
but they have no words,
they can only show you
they sing more than they walk
they ohm more than they talk,
and sometimes we do too.

And we do not always need
the words, the photos, or a centerfold
to prove it.
So, for the love of god,
ohm, ohhhhhhm it.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
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