Fundamentals of Esperanto
The grammatical rules of this language can be learned in one sitting.
Nouns have no gender & end in -o; the plural terminates in -oj (pronounced -oy) & the accusative, -on (plural -ojn).
Armiko, 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 Radio Vatican. In 1954, UNESCO declared the World Esperanto Association to be in accord with its mission & granted this body consultative status. The youth branch of the international Esperanto movement, TEJO, 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.
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 a swallow 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 by 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. Never prayed. But enough about purple martins.
As we speak, Esperanto is being corrupted by upstart 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 patois 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,
Entrepreno . . . 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 one by one out of the song,
then turns back to the journey they all began
long ago, keeping the river to his right.
SRIKANTH REDDY is a graduate of the lowa Writer’s Workshop and a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Harvard University. His poems have appeared in various . journals, including Fence, Grand Street, jubilat, and Ploughshares. He is currently the Moody Writer-in-Residence at the University of Chicago.
Copyright World Poetry, Incorporated Jul/Aug 2003
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