From The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky

BOMB 135 Spring 2016
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PIRATE
I am getting so used to this island it’s becoming like second nurture to me.

PARROT
What if we never get rescued.

PIRATE
Maybe you should think of our catastrophe as an opportunity to become a better person.

PARROT
I don’t want to be a better person, I want to be a better parrot.

PIRATE
How could you be a better parrot.

PARROT
There’s always room for improvement, I could learn new words.

PIRATE
You already have such a vast vocabulary, especially for a non-native speaker.

PARROT
Why am I a non-native speaker, I’ve been speaking your language so long I might as well be native.

PIRATE
It’s my native language, your native language is Parrot.

PARROT
I forgot Parrot.

PIRATE
Your native language is what you learn from infancy, which in your case is Parrot.

PARROT
I’ve been speaking your language so long I forgot Parrot.

PIRATE
There is no such category as naturalized speaker.

PARROT
I speak as well as you, and use many words you don’t.

PIRATE
The words I know come more naturally and I feel their meanings more.

PARROT
How would you go about evidencing that statement.

PIRATE
It is not me speaking, it’s cognitive science.

PARROT
Iterate your cognitive science, you cog.

PIRATE
Cognitive science has proven that non-native language processing affects different brain areas, employs different mechanisms, and operates less efficiently and more slowly than native processing.

PARROT
Really, based on what.

PIRATE
Neuroimaging techniques that measure changes in neuronal activity as indicated by changes in blood flow to particular brain areas.

PARROT
My psittische momme, I need her more than ever now.

PIRATE
Yes, there will always be a distance between you and your words.

PARROT
O will they always reside as aliens in a strange land.

PIRATE
Your voice is a giveaway, they don’t sound like they are in their natural place in your throat.

PARROT
O my very body is of two minds about them.

PIRATE
Stop saying O, it’s like you don’t mean it but are reenacting Othello.

PARROT
Pirate, are you saying you read Othello.

PIRATE
It was a requirement in boarding school.

———

<The Island of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis>

 

Hello, nice weather we’re having, says the parrot. How do the grammatical structures of yourlanguage affect your experience of it?

Are you practicing, says the pirate (from the bushes).

Are you spying on me, says the parrot (outside the bushes).

That won’t work, you know, says the pirate (climbing out of the bushes).

Why?

Their language might lack the expression for “the grammatical structures of your language,” explains the pirate. In which case they would have no idea of what you’re talking about.

What do you think I was born yesterday? They wouldn’t understand a word if I used words. I am going to translate everything into signs and gestures.

But parrot, how would you render the phrase “the grammatical structures of your language” in signs and gestures?

The parrot—

PIRATE
No, that’s not entirely clear. Have you thought of this?

The pirate—

PARROT
“Structures,” “structures,” not “strictures”!

PIRATE
am trying to do “structures”!

PARROT
Less force, less force. Look at me. Try this.

The parrot—

PIRATE
That might do … Shall we act it out it? I’ll be the native, you be the alien.

We go to the opposite ends of the island, we turn around, we walk towards each other, and we communicate.

They go to the opposite ends of the island, turn around, and walk towards each other.

Hello, nice weather we’re having, signs the parrot. How do the

grammatical structures of your language affect your experience of it?

Because my verbs have no tenses, signs the pirate, it’s all weather all the time for me, baby.

How interesting, signs the parrot. I see that not all your sentences are copulative.

Don’t use that gesture, says the pirate. They might get the wrong idea.

———

If we don’t get discovered soon we’ll turn into indigenous people. (Says the pirate.)

It’s when we get discovered that we turn into indigenous people. (Says the parrot.)

We discover ourselves when we turn into indigenous people. (Says the pirate.)

We discover we are not ourselves when we turn into indigenous people. (Says the
      parrot.) So it is better we remain undiscovered.

Blessed be the undiscovered person whose language is his. (Says the pirate,
      drumming.)

His reactions are natural, his gestures simple, the expression of his feeling
      unaffected. (The parrot says.)

He does not take dictation from a dictionary. (Says the pirate, rumming.)

He does not bid “come hither” to an interpreter that he may communicate with
      another or himself. (Says the parrot, strumming.)

Everybody loves the undiscovered person, when he walks into the room.
      (The pirate.)

Everybody looks at him and says, Would you look at that. (The parrot.)

I am a parrot my house has a skelton in every closet. (Says the pirate … Or is it
      the parrot?)

But the limits of his language are the limits of his world. (Who is the author of
      that statement?)

Yea, verily, the undiscovered person is like unto a parrot. (Says the pirate.)

If a parrot could talk we wouldn’t understand what he’s saying. (The pirate says.)

If we say to him, Excuse me, we can’t understand what you’re saying. (Pirate
      the says.)

He would say to us, Really? And you can understand what you’re saying. (Says
      the parrot.)

The Makar and Mocker of the Universe, he placed an undiscovered person on
      every world. (It’s the parrot that says that.)

Most of them invaded other worlds because they thought the undiscovered people
      on other worlds would be better off being more like them. (Evidence favors
      the pirate.)

Some are still around, although permanently scarred. (Says either the pirate or
      the parrot.)

If you assay discovering them they will send a discomforting gesture your way.
      (The content is the pirate’s but the discontent is the parrot’s.)

O discoverers of that which is as yet undiscovered, as well as of that which is
      kind of discovered but not really, consider this person. (Says if not the
      parrot, then the pirate.)

For, as he is a natural, he is an advocate of truths that are self-evident. (Says if not the pirate, then the parrot.)

If he already owns a T-shirt that says DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY,
      UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA. (Apparently the parrot.)

He thinks it actually says good luck to you and may you have a long life.
      (Consequently the pirate.)

Eugene Ostashevsky is a Russian-born American poet who lives in New York and Berlin. He is the author of the poetry collections The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza and Iterature, both published by Ugly Duckling Presse, as well as translator of Russian contemporary and twentieth-century poetry, especially the OBERIU group. The poems published here are from The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi, forthcoming in the NYRB Poets series.

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