Egon Kisch Takes The Dictation Test 1934

By | 1 October 2020

I do not speak the language which condemns him.
My task is to speak the language of this door, the simple
words of yes or no, you may enter here, you may not.
Behind me Australia branches and the door must remain shut.

Outside, all of Australia branches and Spring’s first crows complain
to the cheerful wind and the wind jibes back. I’ve seen Mr Kisch
stare out the window a dozen times then back to the page’s empty mouth.
His allotted time is nearly gone, and nothing that he says can be correct.

His allotted time is nearly gone, and nothing in his multilingual brain
will grant the words to let him pass, though all of Europe is
burning at his back and all we have to do to save him is to
listen. The crows call out and all of them are prophesying war.

Listen, the crows call out and perhaps they speak the Lord’s Prayer
in Gaelic, for that’s the acid lines I’ve given him to speak, or they talk
of death. I cannot tell. I do not speak it, and nor does he. For
the purpose of the test is not to pass, and his lips must stay shut.

The purpose of the test is not to pass and the only language set
must be the only language he is certain not to know. I left my daughters
rolling in their cot this morning to make my way down to the immigrant’s dock,
their voices squealing behind me like the unkind judgment of the birds.

Their voices squealing, the birds have marked the hour and time is up.
He never spoke a word though the Jews of Europe were burning at his back.
He knew we would not listen to any prayer he chose, nor any warning.
When the trial is run, he can put his case before the testing of the law.

When the trial is run, they’ll say of me, he was a second rate Scotsman,
he had not a word of Gaelic to decide
, but that was not my failure: what
I did not know was that the language of a door is always no. You do not
need a door to enter, but a door like any mouth can be kept shut.

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