The Wordmonger's Tale

I sold them words aplenty
they had never known before.
Where once they thought the
sky mere blue, the forest green,
they could now define these colors
and their changing variegations
with a painter's expertise.
I peddled shades of meaning
and explained emotions manifold,
from filial love to passionate love,
from "tolerate," to "dislike," to "abhor."
Where a single word once served,
they now possessed a dozen more.
Yet when I hitched my horse
to my wagon, packed my books
and other things, and tried to
travel on with a wave of farewell
to some other land in need,
these pure and simple people
had become something else indeed.
Without pronouncing sentence
they locked me in a prison cell.
They strived to pick my brain
with the words I had taught them
and the knowledge they had gained.
Their appetites were whetted
by the subtleties they'd tamed,
and now they wanted words galore
to describe most everything.
They threatened and they wooed
and they would not let me be,
so I gave them words less sure,
less true, than others I dispensed.
I proffered unproved lexicons
and dictionaries gone to seed,
and from these doubtful jargons
they soon fashioned sophistry.
And still when they persisted
I stitched them from whole cloth:
words derived from nothingness
with vacuums at their core,
words that had never existed
for things that could not be.
I listened while their dialogues
evolved and turned about
as they gibbered in the tongues
of their corrupt vocabularies.
I heard once gentle voices
grow raucous and extreme
in a skein of dissension
rife with wordy declarations
that soon led to acts of war.
And still the words raged on
in a deafening officialese,
intermingled with the screams
and the terminal blasphemes
of those who now embraced
a lingua franca of the damned.
Once slaughter had its day
a dread silence filled the air,
as if language had gone to hell
and made its homestead there.
In the door of my barred cell
the jailer had left the key,
but once I dared to use it
there was only horror to see.
So should I journey onward
with my wagon full of words,
with its colorful facade and
gilded spokes and wheels,
with thesauruses and primers
and the skills that I present,
when I've learned that
words are fearsome things
when they are deadly spent,
when I've seen a people broken
by the language they have spoken,
expecting words to tell them
how to live and how to breathe,
thinking words far heavier
than what they represent?
(appeared in Dark Roads: Selected Long Poems 1971-2012, Dark Renaissance Books, 2013)