Man, woman, man, woman
Woman fire, man water
Man, woman, man, woman
This was the first “poem” ever recorded after we found our language once again. It took us almost six hundred years, six centuries to figure out we could do other things with words than use them to ask each other if it was safe to go outside.
Thousands of us began to wrestle with words and sentences at the same time. We found those that sounded alike and put them together and jumped around like madmen. We whooped and sacrificed more goats than we had to—we didn’t know why it made us so happy.
So we wrote down poems to amuse ourselves. We held gatherings to see who wrote the best sounding poem and the victor was lauded with praise. Their words were passed on from person to person till everyone in our little society had memorized them.
The worst sounding poet, however, was beheaded. They deserved it for not making us happy. We wrote down their words and put them into bottles that were sent out to sea.
These poets wrote about things as they were; they wrote about farming, or their women, or their feet.
And ankles fat.
The poet who wrote this was beheaded; he was way ahead of his time as we later found out, to our embarrassment, when the Mountain Poets began to arrive with their new words. His execution, however, will always be remembered by our people as a thing of beauty.
When this man narrated his poem in front of the gathering, those present spat on him. I was one of them, and I hated his words just as much as everyone around me. Orders were given for his beheading as soon as he said “fat.” He tried to protest but no one listened; we did not want to hear about things we could see.
An executioner was called for, and one man from the crowd volunteered. It was a matter of respect, of honor, and he was one of three people in the village who’d brought along an axe.
The poet and the executioner were both led to a raised platform in the middle of the valley, and the entire gathering stood in a circle around them. I was only a little boy then. I remember trembling with excitement.
The man lifted up the axe, and we began as one: “Legs long.”
The head came clean off.
If this had been any other day, the narration would have carried on as usual while the poet bled to death. Then we would’ve dispersed and tried to forget the blasphemer’s words.
We had not expected, however, that the infidel’s head would bounce.
The head rolled off the daïs and hit one of the stairs. The sound the surprisingly hollow head produced—the thump—and what happened next, mesmerized the gathering.
“And ankles fat.”
We burst into applause. Oh the ecstasy! Words mixed with other sounds, thumps and thuds—what was this? We felt something move inside us, felt ourselves want to move. Flowers were called for and thrown at the executioner. What had he done?
Three hundred poets were beheaded the next day in the valley, just for the fuck of it, much to the people’s exhilaration and delight. We never knew there were so many among us with hollow heads. But soon there were no more poets to execute.
Some began to beat their hands and throw stones against boulders while shouting whatever words came to them. The rest of us lost our minds with happiness at the noise it produced.
Zain was born and raised in Pakistan and is currently studying linguistics in Freiburg, Germany. His work has appeared in The Freiburg Review and Bird’s Thumb, and is forthcoming in FLAPPERHOUSE,Third Point Press, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Cheap Pop, Bahamut Journal, and others. He tweets at @linguistictrain.