I play with words the way rulers play with lives.
I elevate some of them, and I set others
against each other, slashing as if knives
were what they were. If I find a word that smothers
the others in my word menagerie
I snuff it out the way rulers do with lives.
Unlike with shamans, presidents, and tzars,
my powers do my subjects little harm.
When I am dead and done for, words will be
in dictionaries alphabetically,
and locked in novels, and free in open minds,
and floating between planets while they wait
for future speakers to provide them breath.
When shamans shame a person to go fight,
when presidents preside and send in troops,
and when tzars drive cars across their peasants’ heads
the people they run down stay grievously dead.
I can’t know if I am more moral than all world leaders,
but fortunately I am weaker, and I use words
as my objects for tormenting. Words can’t die.
The powerful trick or force the weak to work
on things that make the powerful more strong.
The strong earn billions (‘earn’ is here misused)
off the backs and dreams of people with less power.
I play a game with words, but those I exploit
remain as well off as do those I don’t.
To rulers causing torment, words are a quoit
they throw to ring in dissidents who won’t
kow-tow to them. Let them throw rings of iron
as often as they like till they expire,
these rulers, who like us must grievously die,
but our words and word games will survive their worst.