05 July 2006

Poem: Is English Your First Language?

I just realized that, although I've been meaning to post poems here, I've been very bad about doing so. To remedy that, I thought I'd put up this one, which appeared in Issue #48 of Washington DC's grand annual literary cornicopia Gargoyle. Many thanks to Richard Peabody and everyone at the journal, and those who were at the launch reading in DC, (where The Other Half took this photo of your less-than-regular Blogger on stage)

Is English Your First Language?

Try evasion, ellipsis, and regret.
Or silence, unabridged, volumes spoken
with a whisper, encyclopedic furtive glances
in an echoing house dressed and lit for Scenes
of Childhood
, the ever changing lines rewritten
every night. Improvisation: American family breakfast – action!

Primers on mind- and palm-reading the most helpful
dictionaries for translating the fading Braille of a hard
sentence across the butt, or face. Code- and willow-
switching learns you good: English is a conditional tongue:
only adults can misuse it, curse, or lie.

When outside the house say ___

Outside the family say ___

When white folks are around, say nothing.


Kaunda said...

Hi I'm here via Gukira.

I'm white and English the only language I know.

I had just finished writing an email that touched on English being conditional. I meet so many fascinating people online and want to talk with them. But I end up apologizing too much. Online it's not always easy to figure out what's appropriate even in my first and only language.

"Is English Your First Language" is beautiful to read, especially on your blog. Thanks for posting it and leaving the comments open.

While I was here I had to read "A Black man and two Latinos walk into a Chinese carryout..." Communicating is a struggle, sometimes can make a person glad they tried.

John K said...

I love this poem as well. Didn't you read it in NYC? It gets at language's role in selving, subjectivity--but also its social roles, how its use can reveal everything, which can be too much, or conversely, almost nothing....

ReggieH said...

Thanks for your comment Kaunda, and welcome. And yes, John, I did read this in New York. I guess you're not supposed to play favorites with your own work, but I like it too!:) I'm glad you think it captures something about the very tricky nature of language.
I wanted to post the 'Body and Soul' poem as well, which I also read up there after you mentioned it on your blog, and may still do so. As you thought, it does curve back and forth across the page, but it doesn't come across as well as I'd like when I did a test here on the blog....guess we may have to wait for its appearance in that antiquated format of print!:)