“Fundamentals of Esperanto”
The grammatical rules of this language can be learned in one
Nouns have no gender & end in -o; the plural terminates in -oj
(pronounced -oy) & the accusative, -on (plural 0ojn).
Amiko, friend; amikoj, friends; amikon & amikojn, accusative
friend & friends.
Adjectives end in –a & take plural & accusative endings to
agree with things.
Ma amiko is my friend.
All verbs are regular & have only one form for each tense or
mood; they are not altered for person or number. Mi havas
bonajn amikojn is simply to say I have good friends.
Adverbs end in –e.
La bonaj amiko estas ie. The good friend is here.
A new book appears in Esperanto every week. Radio stations in
Europe, the United States, China, Russia & Brazil broadcast in
Esperanto, as does Vatican Radio. In 1959, UNESCO declared the
International Federation of Esperanto Speakers to be in accord with
its mission & granted this body consultative status. The youth
branch of the International Federation of Esperanto Speakers, UTA,
has offices in 80 different countries & organizes social events where
young people curious about the movement may dance to recordings
by Esperanto artists, enjoy complimentary soft drinks & take home
Esperanto versions of major literary works including the Old
Testament & A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William Shatner’s first
feature-length vehicle was a horror film shot entirely in Esperanto.
Esperanto is among the languages currently sailing into deep space
on board the Voyager spacecraft.
Esperanto is an artificial language
constructed in 1887 by L.
L. Zamenhof, a polish
oculist. I first came
across Fundamento Esperanto, the text
which introduced this system
to the world, as I travelled abroad
following a somewhat difficult period
in my life. It was twilight & snowing on the
railway platform just outside
Warsaw where I had missed
my connection. A man in a crumpled track suit
& dark glasses pushed a cart
piled high with ripped & weathered volumes—
sex manuals, detective stories, yellowing
musical scores & outdated physics textbooks,
old copies of Life, new smut,
an atlas translated,
a grammar, The Mirror, Soviet-bloc comics,
a guide to the rivers &
mountains, thesauri, inscrutable
musical scores & mimeographed physics books,
defective stories, obsolete sex manuals—
one of which caught my notice
Zamenhof’s pen name, translates as He Who Hopes) &
since I had time, I traded
my used Leaves of Grass for a copy.
Mi amas vin, bela amiko.
I’m afraid I will never be lonely enough.
There’s a man from Quebec in my head,
a friend to the purple martins.
Purple martins are the Cadillac of swallows.
All purple martins are dying or dead.
Brainscans of grown purple martins suggest
these creatures feel the same levels of doubt
& bliss as an eight-year-old girl in captivity.
While driving home from the brewery
one night this man from Quebec heard a radio program
about purple martins & the next day he set out
to build them a house
in his own back yard. I’ve never built anything,
let alone a house,
not to mention a home
for somebody else.
I’ve never unrolled a blueprint onto a workbench,
sunk a post,
or sent the neighbor’s kid pedalling off
to the store for a bag full of nails.
I’ve never waited ten years for a swallow.
Never put in aluminum floors to smooth over the waiting.
Never piped sugar water through colored tubes
to each empty nest lined with newspaper shredded
with strong, tired hands.
Never dismantled the entire affair
& put it back together again.
Still no swallows.
I never installed the big light that stays on through the night
to keep owls away. Never installed lesser lights,
never rested on Sunday
with a beer on the deck surveying
what I had done
& what yet remained to be done, listening to Styx
while the neighbor kids ran through my sprinklers.
I have never collapsed in abandon.
But enough about purple martins.
As we speak, Esperanto is being corrupted
by upset languages such as Interlingua,
Klingon, Java & various cryptophasic tongues.
Our only hope of reversing this trend is to write
the Esperanto epic. Through its grandeur
& homegrown humility, it will spur men
to freeze the mutating patios so the children
of our children’s children may dwell in this song
& find comfort in its true texture & frame.
It’s worth a try. As I imagine it, it ends
in the middle of things. Every line of the work
is a first & a last line & this is the spring
of its action. Of course, there’s a journey
& inside that journey, an implicit voyage
through the underworld. There’s a bridge
made of boats; a carp stuffed with flowers;
a comic dispute among sweetmeat vendors;
a digression on shadows; men clapping
in fields to scare away crows; an unending list
of warships: The Unternehmen, The Impresa,
The Muyarchi, Viec Lam, The Przedsiebiorstwo,
The Indarka, The Enterprise, L’Entreprise,
Entrepeno… One could go on. But by now,
all the characters have turned into swallows
& bank as one flock in the sky—that is,
all except one. That’s how we finally learn
who the hero was all along. Weary & old,
he sits on a rock & watches his friends
fly by one by one out of the song,
then turns back to the journey they all began
long ago, keeping the river to his right.