“The Last Word” by Deena Metzger

Deena Metzger



There will come a time
When a last word will be spoken
In this language. Afterwards
A great sigh will emanate from the trees.
They will begin to whisper among themselves
The sounds of courage and a wind will come
Out of them sweeter than air.
In the silent place that feared the axe
A secret hollow will express the breath
They didn’t dare reveal. So many years
Hiding the truth. The missing songs
Of birds will emerge from the grasses

The peoples who knew how to sing so
Will rise up brown as the earth.
Sometimes the women and the cattle and the soil
Share the same hues or the same timbre of praise.
Then there are the greens that repeat themselves
Only in eyes, and those who carried the leaves
In their vision, carry what prevails
When the last word has been spoken
And the heavens open up in unimpeded light.

The rush of blue then between sky and water
Will be a waterfall of music, and we
Will not miss the bloody chatter that razed
Everything to the ground, but will sing
The yellow pollen and the golden sap
In the dark colors of stones shining
In riverbeds.

What will you give up?
The Spirit asks.
I certainly do not need the last word,
I say. Let it be spoken quickly and
Be done with, so we can pray.


There will come the time
Before the last word will be spoken
When the dead will listen
To learn what their fate will be
What destiny the last word will fulfill.
And every word that ever was spoken
In that langue will be gathered
Into one.

The harsh judgment of chance and
Circumstance will be rendered
As the entire cannon will be weighed
Against the skin of sheep
And the bodies of trees,
Each word against each life
Without pity. And everyone
Who had ever spoken
Will have to come forth
And claim their words
And what became of them,
How they served the living
And how they served the dead.

One way or another, whether
“Praise,” or “Damnation,”
Nothing will be redeemed
And the great prison house
Of language will fall,
And bury the last speaker
For there will be no one left
To do it in the mother tongue
To which she was born,
The one that held and rocked her
In its melodies and rhythms,
Its beauty and cruelty.
And she will go, as empires must,
Into dust. This has been written so many times,
But we never believe we will die out,
Die out by our own hands,
And by our own words,
By what we have sworn.


There will come a time
When the last spoken words
Will be heard by the gods
And their hearts will break
And descend in a green rain.

The accumulated anguish of the creatures
Will become a stubborn poetry
Rushing in like the swift wind
That replaces the lost songs of the dead.
These broken shards of sacred language
And persistence, these fragments
That defended what was threatened
What was going extinct, will become
Like the scatter of stars,
A delicate light sufficient
To illuminate the dark we have imposed.

Those who had no words
Will be given words like amaryllis
And sunflower, porcupine and flamingo,
Endangered words for their salvation
Like manatee and rhinoceros,
Or river and corn.
In other words, they will be given
Their own bodies to declare to each other
So it will be impossible to distinguish
Meaning from their particular lives.

Each will contribute only the single word
Of one’s body and soul,
So when one speaks a sentence
One will always have to speak
Of more than oneself.

To speak at any length
Whether in the eloquence of wolf howl
Or arpeggios of bird song, or
The chastened whispers of a new
Human speech will be to invoke
All that is living in one’s cogitations,
And so it will be
After the last words are finally spoken
That the first words will,
Once again,
Conjure Creation.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004

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