The Languages of the Tower of Babel

The Language of the Tower The language of the Tower has room for only one truth: The Tower of Babel must rise even higher. In this sense, it is the perfect language. To know it is to understand not only it, but the world itself. The Earth becomes a birthplace for clay and stones. Trees become ladders and ramps to scale its heights. And most important of all, I become a pair of hands with a beautiful task to do.

Issue 2

by Lillie E. Franks

The Language of the Tower

The language of the Tower has room for only one truth: The Tower of Babel must rise even higher.

In this sense, it is the perfect language. To know it is to understand not only it, but the world itself. The Earth becomes a birthplace for clay and stones. Trees become ladders and ramps to scale its heights.

And most important of all, I become a pair of hands with a beautiful task to do. The task must be beautiful, because it is the only language we share.

It is the tower itself which teaches us this language. It is vast, greater than anything except the Earth, which was made to supply it. Therefore, it is important. Its immense encircling wall is jagged and covered with ladders and scaffolds. Therefore, it is incomplete.

The Tower of Babel must rise even higher.

The Tower is great and round and red, like the rising sun. It stretches into the distance, where the other people on it are dim shadows, who cling to the wall like spiders. We are always cutting away the bricks that we once stood on in order to place them higher, because the Tower must rise higher. Yes, sometimes someone misses a jump and falls to the far distant earth, but those deaths have no name in the language of the Tower.

The language of the Tower has as few names as it has thoughts.

The Tower was named the Tower, and it is the only singular name. Every other name is shared with something else.

The earth is named a source of bricks.

The sun is named that by which clay is hardened.

The sky is named room to continue.

All of us together are named workers with work to do.

And that is enough. That has to be enough, because anything else has no name.


The Secret Language

There is no name for suffering, and so, the ugly feeling inside us all could not be important.

Only the Tower is important, and every day, it rises.

But there is another language, or rather, there isn’t, because the Secret Language is not like the Language of the Tower. The secret language is not to be spoken with anyone. It has no names to give and no truths to offer.

The nameless language takes things without names and holds them. It cannot offer a word to the ugly feeling I have in the quiet of the night after a hard day of work, when I should be satisfied that the Tower was taller than it once had been. But instead, it gives a quiet smile in its direction, as if to say, “Someday, another language ought to name you.“

I look at you, working. I look at all the people around us. I wonder if you have a Secret language yourself. I wonder if any of you would understand me if I could somehow attach names to its silence. Would you be happy to hear the secret things in them named, or would it make you angry?

Do you have those things to be named, even? Or am I the only one, because I am less of a worker? I fight to hide my secret language, and I wonder if you had ever done the same.

But there is no asking. There is no other language. There is only the Tower, and the Tower had to rise higher.


The Quiet Language

We are supposed to speak only the language of the Tower. But of course, it was always more complicated than that. When two people came at the same time to a place where only one could cross, the Tower cannot tell them how to get across. It cannot decide who was to carry bricks and who was to place them and who was to haul them up by pulleys from the world below.

We aren’t allowed to create such a language. Only the Language of the Tower was allowed.

And so, we make a quiet language.

In the quiet language, we smile at each other across the gap, and you step aside to let me pass. I look at you, and, without words, thank you for it.

The quiet language reminds me to offer the tired man on the pulley to replace him, and it tells him to take the rope back once he’s rested.

The quiet language solves many such conflicts, and we tell ourselves each time that it is only for the sake of the Tower. This quiet language isn’t a language at all. It is simply a few rules of grammar to support the true language.

And yet, in the night, when it is quiet, I can’t help still speaking in it. I can’t help looking at you, sleeping by the Tower’s edge, and smiling at you as if we were across a gap from each other. I can’t help wanting to see you smile back.

But it is only a quiet language.

I do not raise my voice.


The Old Language

There are rumors of another language, a lost language, in which the people who came to Babel when it was still an empty plain had decided to lift the great Tower to which we gave ourselves and our tongues.

They say that in the old language, they had decided to build a Tower that would reach all the way to heaven. Or perhaps it was that the Tower itself would be heaven. Or maybe even it was simply that our work on the Tower would earn us entry into a heaven after death.

It doesn’t matter what exactly they said, because that language is not for us any more. We belong to the language of the Tower, and all we have to know of the Old language is that in it, someone had decided it was right for this to be our fate. They had decided it for a reason we could no longer understand. We had lost their language, and we did not have names for the things they had.

I sit at the edge of the Tower and think about the pieces of the Old Language that haunt us, even though we have no definitions for them, no ideas of what they mean.




And all the other workings of a lost language that would connect these strange, big concepts to the world of quiet feelings and wet clay that I know.

I wonder if you are thinking about them too. I wonder if you understand more about that world of nameless things and empty names.

The people who spoke the Old language had seen heaven, whatever that was, in the walls of this Tower.

The only way to find it is to continue to build.


Your Language

I cannot help but build a secret language, only for you. I see you working every day, but I also see you staring off into the distance, as if even though the Tower is so much larger than all of us, there might be something even larger than it. I have learned when to smile to you, and when you will smile back. I have learned the small ways I can aid in your work, and the little kindnesses I can do you that somehow also make my day easier as well.

I have put my arms around your body in the dark, and felt your hands explore my own.

The Tower does not hear us, I tell myself. It doesn’t know that we are turning away from it, even if only for a little.

I want to tell you how happy it makes me to lie with you. I want to tell you how I think about the little fragments of language that I dare to show you, and how I puzzle over the glimmers you return to me. I want to tell you what I would do to understand you, even though you are so much smaller than the great Tower, which I do not understand either.

I want to tell you that you are different from all the other workers who lay the bricks on the tower walls, different because I am fascinated by you. I want to tell you that working next to you makes me happy to speak a quiet language.

For the first time, I want to build a language not for me, but for you, only you. A gift of names, for your lips.

But the Tower of Babel must rise higher.

I want to name this love, but love is like heaven. It is a thing of the old language, and our meetings in the dark are tired and awkward and hidden. We do not stand proud like the Tower, which is heaven and love all together.

Still, to share a nameless thing even with one other person rather than no one is a gift so valuable I can only name it: miracle.


The Miracle Language

Like all miracles, it is fearful at first.

Something is wrong, everyone says. What was once one is now many.

Languages fall apart. The grammar cannot hold.

New names spring up like flowers, followed by new names for those new names.

The Tower does not shatter, but its tongue does.

Suddenly, it cannot hold back the flood which it has borne for so long. All of the secret languages which we have built in its shadow crash down on us.

The secret language.

The quiet language.

The old language.

Your language.

All of them are upon us now that the Language of the Tower is broken.

They wash over us, loud and blended together. You cannot tell what you are listening to, but you know that it is more than a single tower.

I run to you, and you run to me, and we both run to the other people we know and quietly loved. We struggle to say why, or we say too much, because where once there was no language for the truth of what draws us together, now there are hundreds.

It is better to be together than alone.

This is only one of the new, looming truths.

We are many.

We are strange to each other.

Every new name is a new possibility.

The Tower of Babel does not have to rise.

It is tall enough. Maybe too tall.

The ropes go slack. People drop the bricks they were carrying. They look up to the sky, and suddenly, they see that no Tower could ever rise up to it. They realize the immense space that always surrounded them, and which they hid from themselves in namelessness.

The babble begins.

It is full of love and anger, and kindness, and pain. It is cruel and gentle. We face it together and alone.

And through all of us, the miracle language sounds.

The miracle language is babble. It is the undoing of the language of the Tower.

It reminds you that all things can be named, and all names can be joined together endlessly.

It whispers to you that there is never only one truth, but an infinite horde, crashing against each other and calling out in their own strange tongues.

It tells you that there is always room for more: more hope, more possibility, more words, more, more, more.

We hold each other and we listen as we speak the miracle language. We stumble through it, and we laugh at it. We are hurt by it, and we soothe each other.

We are all listening, because it is everywhere.

It is beyond learning, but hearing it just once fills you forever.

Lillie E. Franks is a trans author and eccentric who lives in Chicago, Illinois with the best cats. You can read her work at places like Always Crashing, Poemeleon, and Drunk Monkeys or follow her on Twitter at @onyxaminedlife. She loves anything that is not the way it should be.