I wrote this poem inspired by language, specifically the stories between the layers of the English language. Moreover, it was written in response to ‘My Spanish’ by Melissa Lozada-Oliva.

Melissa Lozada-Oliva performs her poem, My Spanish.

If you ask me if English is my mother tongue,

I will tell you my English is a Cat o’ Nine Tails.

My English is my parents’ wedding reception:

part of it anecdote and the rest is family history.

If you ask me if I am fluent,

I will tell you that my English is a battleship.

My English is not my English.

I will say my English is little Ashanti boys.

My English longs to know its etymology

as its root was taken and replaced with a question mark.

My English wonders what it’s like to belong.

My English was given to me at the end of a sword.

Stonehenge (Photo Credit: Fotobias on Pixabay)

If you ask me if I am fluent,

I will say my English is slave resistance.

It’s Christmas and Haitian Revolution.

My English is Grenada and St George’s Day.

My English are the Black soldiers that fought at Trafalgar.

My English is Jamaica and Morant Bay.

And if you ask me if I am fluent,

I will tell you stories

of Demerara, Bunce Island and Elmina

and afternoon tea with my grandmother —

rituals of crackers, cheese and biscuits

a thesis on plantations, slave codes, Enoch Powell,

National Front rallies and colonial statues

with Jim Crow Laws, segregation and apartheid.

But…

my English is knowing

I come from immigrants and slaves

my tongue split like Brexit.

Photo Credit: Raw Pixel on Pixabay

What’s it like

to be a tourist in the land

you helped build?

What is it like

to not be expected to English?

To be Black and British

to be part slave, part coloniser.

What is it like to dance

to the anthems of native and foreigner?

To be called countryperson and immigrant

treading on the eggshells of otherness

to be told go back to where you came from?

What even is English? A hybrid tongue

too weak to stand on its own

or a language of unity in juxtaposition of itself?

Photo Credit: Andy Ballard on Pixabay

Britain built by Celts and Romans —

Angles, Vikings, Jutes, Saxons, Britons

behind enemy lines of colonial ambitions

How does it feel to hide behind Viking-shield walls?

How does it feel to place yourself on your family tree?

To speak languages with no baggage,

to have names that weren’t

washed up like plastic on a beach?

Writer-Poet | Muses: Black and Mixed-Race histories, inequality, identity, arts et al| Race and Black History Educator | treventour.com | E: tre@treventour.com

Writer-Poet | Muses: Black and Mixed-Race histories, inequality, identity, arts et al| Race and Black History Educator | treventour.com | E: tre@treventour.com