A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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The aliens arrive, saucers white and gleaming like sails.
Their instruments are excellent, and they all speak several
of our tongues. Still, they confess to struggles with translation.
They bring peace, but not the peace we have imagined.
They have a story we must learn, a story that drives them
through the galaxy. There was a child, a king, prophets,
plagues, a horrifying death, and a word more precious than
the world. They do not tell this story start to end, the word
resists all of our tongues. Red wolf racing in the dim forest?
someone asks. A vole in the meadow grass, meeting his beloved?
No. They beg for patience. They are sure we can learn,
we can know as they know. In the meantime, they bring
other gifts. Centuries pass. They talk, and we listen, when
we can. Millions die in plagues they insist were accidental
and tragic. The gleaming towers they build for us stand empty,
the wide spirals they insist must crown each tower screw themselves
enigmatically into the sky. They cannot go back, their ships
burnt dead by the deeps. More were to follow, but none arrive.
They grow melancholic, distracted. They live for centuries
but do not breed — something in the sun, they believe.
We have the word, they die insisting, the only word,
the child told us there was no other word. They speak
the word, dying, reluctant, desperate. We listen. Nothing
changes. We bury them according to their ways, faceup,
lightly covered, not too deep. When the child returns
in glory she will save us, they told us many times,
if we are covered lightly and not buried too deep.