As designated translator, I taste saffron, gold coins,
a slight burning. Since I’ve returned, there has been less
of me in English. Though return always meant measuring
the earth’s door, tongue ozoned and still learning
to stretch between here and home. Sah, my native
speech is like a window sash pulled up wa down.
Sah, I shift phrases without thought. Classmates tilt
at my returned self like I grew horns, can shoot bombs
out my ass. Like they want to dump me in ma’a,
watch me float like a witch. When I Arabic my way
towards them, they pat my back in case I hack mucus
wa dem. What do you call a word the mouth has forgotten
to push out, stuck by the tonsil’s entrance, squirming
to be sound? Speech becomes a slagged pot I bang crude
beats on. I long to play a song that doesn’t terrorize,
a song that’s understood. The mushkila is I am a surging
current of feared language. Words have stopped arriving
easily. Was it Rumi who said silence is the language
of God and all else is poor translation? I am not
mathaluhum. I can’t properly translate myself,
part I hush tongue my floats lake settled a so
need I steam senseless of shrouds spout and lips my
don’t I proof need I with accent my sink to dictionary a
sense make still can I that, cooing blurred a like sound
I lie about my D in Algebra. Turn, She daydreams
during lessons into, Qaluu I pay attention to detail.
Turn, She’s suspended for fighting into, I’m such a good
student, they gave me a day off. Each rephrasing
Pinocchio’s my nose. I am out of breath from so much
code-switching, crunching the sand it leaves my teeth.
When threatened with a call home, I shrug, Taib.
Go ahead. They’ll say, yes yes, but won’t yafhumun,
will ask me about it later so I can twist it. At dinner,
Baba tells a story of his childhood in Yemen.
About catching a wild fox with his cousin–—Arabic
the medium through which his body can return home.
I drown him out. Ana asif, I don’t mean to. It’s only that
my languages get mukhtalit, and when he talks it sounds
mathal poetry. So when I hear a line about a lost,
sly animal, I am struck mute. Think he means me.
Copyright © Threa Almontaser 2020. Originally published in Diode. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.
curling them around i hold their bodies in obscene embrace thinking of everything but kinship. collards and kale strain against each strange other away from my kissmaking hand and the iron bedpot. the pot is black. the cutting board is black, my hand, and just for a minute the greens roll black under the knife, and the kitchen twists dark on its spine and i taste in my natural appetite the bond of live things everywhere.
From An Ordinary Woman by Lucille Clifton published by Random House. Copyright © 1974 Lucille Clifton. Used with permission.