Poem in progress: The Book of Asking

OK, so I wrote this poem because on Twitter, Erin Entrada Kelly asked, “What was your first word.” Here’s the first draft.

  1. What was your first word      today, ever, in your native tongue, in the tongue you were coerced into taking,
  2. Was your mother there to witness and document, and if not, where was she, in the other room, in another time zone, on another continent
  3. Did you speak your first word, or did you write it in cursive in your secret notebook, in chalk on concrete, on the sidewalk, did you scratch it into glass,
  4. Was it stylish, asemic, was it concise
  5. Was it tattooed on your body somewhere secret, did it hurt your tender parts, how much did you have to drink to bear it,
  6. Do people still try to touch it without your permission
  7. Did you stammer like your father, did people stare at you there, stuttering,
  8. Did they laugh at you, cut you with epithet,
  9. Did they call the cops to report someone who does not belong here
  10. When did you open your mouth again, 
  11. When did you know all the meanings of words
  12. Did they ask who taught you how to speak such good English, did you watch their mouths make meaningless music, 
  13. Who told you to shut your mouth, did you know they were they afraid of you, did this make you want to throw a brick, to break their windows, to take down their flag
  14. When did you know it was not safe to speak, when was the first time you knew you were not safe
  15. Whose words scratched out of which documents, what words booming double barreled   
  16. Whose sweet song is safety, whose sugar,
  17. What is the cost of safety, what is its color, tone, and tax bracket, what language does it speak 
  18. And if safety’s price is your silence, are you good with this
  19. Are you good
  20. Are you more afraid of speaking, than of guns, than of fire, than of breaking, than of dying, than of dying young, than of dying alone, than of dying among strangers
  21. What happens to all the prayer that is stuck in your lungs,
  22. Are you afraid of not being heard, of not being found,
  23. Where is your murmuring body,
  24. If your mother tongue has been cut, then in which part of your body does all your poetry reside
  25. When did you know the stories they told you were not true
  26. Who made up those stories, why did they write you as tragedy
  27. Do you recognize yourself in their descriptions of a wordless girl
  28. Do you believe what you see in their descriptions, a dark girl with no mouth, no larynx, no lungs,
  29. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with words pushing themselves out of your mouth
  30. Whose words will you believe, did you know you have a choice
  31. How do you know who to believe, when everyone is speaking without substance
  32. When will you ever be good enough to speak,
  33. Are you good 
  34. What if I told you there is a god’s language in you, would you believe me
  35. Who told you your language is not divine,
  36. What if I told you spell and poem and prayer are really not so different from one another,
  37. What if I told you that you already know how to speak a thing into being
  38. Would your body be ready to grow a new tongue
  39. How would it feel to press your front teeth to your lower lip and exhale, to click at the back of your soft palate, and to spit
  40. Feels hella good, right
  41. Would you then remember the last word you ever said to your father, whether it was a soft and kind word, as befitting of one keeping vigil, 
  42. Was it was a forgiving word,
  43. Do you think he heard you, and if he did, did he know your voice, did he recognize the worldmaking you speak,
  44. What mantra for your father, 
  45. What mantra for your father when you buried him, 
  46. Did you also know this language resides in stone, 
  47. How are you cutting and polishing each phoneme, each utterance
  48. Are you holding that stone in your hand right now, 
  49. Are you ready for your first word
  50. Are you ready

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