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Lost in Translation

(This piece is best understood when read aloud in a language no one knows.)


We wonder if a falling tree makes a sound when crashing if no one is listening,

As if destruction is somehow different when there are witnesses

As if our presence to see the tree plummet is more important than its death.


It seems undignified to compare a civilization to a tree.

Especially when sawing the limb off a tree one grating furrow at a time does not provoke a scream, 

Especially when there’s no proof that trees feel pain.


(In your mind, picture the scraping of metal against bark, the 

precariousness of a nearly-severed branch before it splinters. 

Abandon this image before the limb hits the ground.)


What is lost when a tree falls? When a tree is made to fall?

There are more trees in more forests,

Until there aren’t.


And what then?

Guilt, perhaps, if we’re paying enough attention.


(Picture the sound of taking in a strained breath and then a long, 

tapering exhale. You may attempt to listen after the sigh eases away, 

but the silence that follows cannot be replicated by the imagination.)


Even using the word last is inadequate to describe the extermination of a forever

The erasing of an eternity is so heartwrenchingly easy.

The ease with which a knife cuts flesh aches somewhere deeper than my soul.

And knowing the perpetrators are guiltless brings an unmatched pain

(Here, pull aside a trusted friend and scream to them as loud as your throat 

allows. Do not take offense when this friend walks away, unfazed.)


Who am I to shed tears over a lost civilization 

When I have no connection to its people, except maybe a distant relation to its conquerors?

The idea of last carves a cavern in my stomach that I don’t know how to fill

And all I can think about is people with caverns wider and deeper than mine.


I can’t produce words to explain the vastness of this feeling. 

Perhaps these words were killed with the last speaker of a now-dead language.


I guess we’ll never know.

©Kaylee Schuler

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