Tuesday 12 December 2023

English sounds like injury in Arabic

In the language I am learning like a child
who must be taught the shapes and sounds
of letters, children scream. Already, 
they are more well-versed than I 
in sounding out these shapes,
and screaming too. 

I who, from my earliest days at school, 
was punished for deficiency in cursive; I, 
whose English letters fall somewhere between
a spider-in-an-inkpot smear and a-for-apple print,
am learning a supremely calligraphic language
as hands far more practiced than mine
find their own writing sliding into scrawl
and must accept it, so those hands may yet
incise and suture with precision
after sixty-six days, most without electric light
or anaesthetic.

In the language I am learning 
the word I find most pleasing
is the name of a nation we bombed into freedom
where people are now sold as slaves. 
In this language, the words for my country
are half-rhymes for wounding and guilt. 

In the language I have grown up speaking
people quibble about what it means
to say things like 'genocide' or 'self-defence', 
or 'rules-based International order'. 
In the language I am learning, 
I cannot say these things. 
I do not, yet, know it well enough to lie.