This poem is part of my personal #poetrycalendar challenge for 2017. To see the initial post, click here.
I am so excited that I can finally put this poem out in the universe. I auditioned for Kollaboration 2017 back in March, and as soon as I found out that I would be a finalist for their showcase, I set about writing a poem that would be worthy of the event.
For the kids who have ever been asked, “Where are you really from?”;
For the kids who can’t understand the language of their extended family;
For the kids who can understand, but can’t speak;
For the kids who wish they were bilingual, but aren’t:
This is for you.
my english is good.
my english so good
that, “your english is so good,”
is not a compliment. it’s just
my english has no exotic origin story because
I’ve been speaking it since birth, because
it has always come first:
baby’s first word,
toddler’s first sentence,
teenager’s first poem.
my english was reading novels
while your english was flipping through picture books!
my english was writing sonnets
while your english couldn’t even rhyme!
my english can stun a room into silence
have a crowd hanging onto every single word
when my english speaks they listen
your english can’t even be heard
so yes, you better be impressed
my english is what you get
when you put a language on a pedestal
and turn it into currency.
english smells like money,
tastes like influence,
feels like social mobility –
english sounds a lot like power
so my english is necessary.
they teach in english at the good schools here
to help you get ahead
help you get out
english is a ticket to opportunity
from the barangay, to the city,
to a plane that will take you far away:
english will build you a home in a strange place.
english will ease the pain
of the feelings you can’t translate.
my english has no accent
but everybody has an accent!
mine sounds like
yours, but your english is nothing like mine.
my english tastes like soy sauce and vinegar.
my words are acid,
burning a hole through your tongue.
my english is a calamansi hybrid.
my words are sour,
sucker punching your tastebuds.
my english swallowed the philippine sea
and pours it into every word it speaks.
my speech is a typhoon.
it will destroy you.
my english is a shapeshifter.
it will learn all your expressions.
master the nuance of your voice.
and when my english is done:
it will read better than you,
write better than you,
speak better than you.
but my english can’t pronounce cebuano words.
in tagalog, it’s even worse.
my english can barely wrap itself around mahal kita,
and salamat po, but it has to.
so I can tell my lola, “I love you,”
tell my titos and titas, “Thank you.”
my english can only answer yes or no questions:
“Are you doing well in school?”
“Have you eaten yet?”
It sits at the fringes of conversation with my mother’s
side of the family. my english doesn’t understand
what everyone is saying, but feels it, somehow.
when I am with the people I love most
my english is not enough.
but I still think in english,
dream in english,
eat-sleep-breathe in english,
laugh in english,
cry in english,
mistakes in english,
regret in english,
forgive in english,
I’ll live and I’ll die
my english is good.
my english is so good.
my english is all I have.