A Flair for Language

She wasn’t easy, is a thing we say

about someone we love. My father

says this about his mother. Grandmother’s

words could cut you from the far side

of a room, well into her last years.

The expressions on her face were widely

reported. It wasn’t necessarily the content

of the opinion, although, it was sometimes,

but how it was packaged and delivered

to your door. One might say she had a flair

for language, if it was a Trini ole-talking.

Which is why I had little choice but to laugh,

one of the last times I saw her,

lustrous as velvet in her dark brown flesh,

recalling me, under the glare of early dementia,

as a lovely little darkie, in a more fragile

voice than the one bellowing into my girlhood,

Fatty-Fatty-Boom-Boom. Her smile hanging

off the long vowel, like a cat’s tail, upturned

to the moon. You see; it’s a miracle I still love

rhyme, the coincidence of language and time.


Copyright © 2022 by Omotara James. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 10, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Language is a rascal. If you attempt to pin it down or restrict it, it might elude you. Attempt to charm it, it might strike back. Examine it from a distance, and watch it run straight into your arms. The fluidity of speech is such that its meaning is ultimately defined by the speaker. The capacity of language to be continually redefined is its own epic. Language is sublimely cultural. Its lyric is derived from world history, alongside personal narrative; it is enriched by intimacy. Observing the rules of language can be as interesting as ignoring them. It was a rush to write this poem. The particularity of the family functions as a delicate syntax. Sometimes your language reminds you from where and whom you hail. Other times, it confronts you with it.”
Omotara James