He comes into my class
Wearing a T-shirt that says,
In big bright letters,
“You’re in America –
And I ask the class
To write down at least three cities
And then they proudly share them with the class;
And many more.
One in English; Compton.
And I ask them
If they notice anything unusual about those names.
Most of them don’t,
Because once a word
Or name becomes familiar,
It doesn’t matter where it came from.
And that’s true of all of us,
And our neighbor
And the one who isn’t
And the one who looks out from the mirror
How we could forget
That this land wasn’t ours first
And we will not hold it forever.
Our land that we love
And exists among
A thousand different languages –
Each one richer
And deeper – more expressive and more human –
From being mixed and slammed,
Mangled and mispronounced.
Sometimes I forget my mortality
And I forget
That this land will never be ours – or anyone’s.
If anything, we belong to it.
It is a land full of surging impossibilities – if we allow it,
And those of us who moan and soar,
And cry out in disbelief and betrayal.
Yet America I am
By birth and passion and sometimes rage –
Against small visions and broken promises.
And I don’t care what language you speak
As long as you speak
What only your soul, and no other, can sing.
In Germany, they speak German,
In France, they speak French,
But in America,
But in America,
The ‘English’ we speak
Is a beautiful, rhythmic, mangled mess
Any true Englishman would blush to call his own.
As Lerner & Lowe put it in My Fair Lady
“There even are places where English completely disappears.
In America, they haven’t used it for years!”
We’ve changed some spellings
And more pronunciations.
We, in the United States, don’t even have – or seem to need – our own official language.
The Americas – North and South –
Are a mosaic
Colors and textures
Deep and rich.
And to imagine that they could, or should,
Speak with one voice
Is an absurdity and a lie
Made obvious in almost any neighborhood
Or public school room.
I’ll take, and love, this ever-shifting language
Like I love my nation.
Even if we sometimes forget
Are also America
And they too,
Speak a tongue far larger than themselves.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.
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