By Eman Hassan
i- What we leave out.
I know something of that clank,
nickels and pennies in my mouth,
of times they rust at the back of my throat
making me think of rosebushes
along my back yard wall,
my urge to clip their unruly babel of leaves
down to their original stump
and I am lost
among the shrubbery of my own language,
held back by arbitrary branches.
At night I brush twigs from my bushy hair,
pull thorns from under the tip of my tongue.
Makes me think of my grandmother,
when she turned seven, seeing speech
as perception, announced
to her immigrant mother there will be no more Polish
spoken in the house again: only American.
She taught me how to swear in her maternal
tongue, often spoke of how Great Nana Julia
long strings of words
at her husband, in a language my grandmother
didn’t remember, those monosyllabic and compound
phrases, just recalled the cuss words
arbitrarily passed down.
My mother tells me this one night as she nods off, smiling
at an image of her grandfather Stanislaus, mumbling
as he stands up for dramatic pause, looks down
at his screechy wife, then flips his hearing aid off.
ii. Loose change
Sometimes people in the old Kuwaiti
market mistake me for American,
which I am, but also one of them,
unlike my British brother in-law,
who teaches Arabs to speak English
there at thirty-five dollars an hour,
his price half the cost
the institute he once worked at
charged for his cockney.
Even my brother in-law can hear
my own words as different, almost off-key,
like my sisters, softer on the gutturals
and heavier intonations. Yes,
I tell him, yes, I am lost between
the diphthongs of one language
and another, among three-pronged
Arabic, its roiling lyric, and Anglophone
Latin, who’s various roots twist
and branch plural versions,
British or American English, yes,
I am lost in my own lack
of singular linguistic socialization.
Who are we, peering out from a construct of sentences,
giving them jingle and form? Who can put a price our coins?
iii. What we take for granted
At the T-Mobile branch I single Elton out,
his unmistakable lilt: Elton is Chaldean,
from the land of Babel and Sumer.
Has never been, but once wanted to be
an interpreter in Iraq because the money,
he heard, was good. When his manager steps
back into the store Elton stops being
familiar, cuts the conversation, says loudly
he was born in Michigan,
explains how my new messaging service
will let me text Kuwait
at forty-five cents a pop.
Elton pronounces Kuwait
like the noun is made out of money:
his associated value with the word
reminds me how we both take for granted
the wealth of a multiple language.
Elton reminds me of my Kuwaiti father
who never took the name of the Lord in vain
but praised it, who often switched around
compound words in English, saying
towel paper or stew beef. He took for granted
I would be proficient in Arabic,
Often dismayed at my syntactic variations.
I took for granted our last conversation
mostly because of the shock,
as we watched the broadcast about Nick
a kidnapped US contractor on TV,
too stumped to speak.
What we leave out, or take for granted. What we take in vain.
The way they held a knife under Nick’s throat, ululating His Name.