MICHAEL HARPER

poet, teacher, et cetera

A EL DOCTOR QUE DICE THEY’LL BE SO CONFUSED IF YOU TEACH THEM TWO LANGUAGES

                “I can’t even tell you’re Hispanic.”

                                  “Why don’t you speak Spanish then?

           “But your last name is so whitesounding.”

                                                        “Why are you so brown?”

                                         -Actual Statements Made At Me By Actual People

 

Entonces cuando la pregunta es blanca como ghost kindling I answer oh yeah

I don’t really speak a lot of Spanish

and then blame it on you –

 

one racist doctor in the Eighties

who cut out mi lengua by never letting me have it –

it’s easy to suggest bilingualism

as a conduit for confusion

privilege calloused into a doctorate of understanding my brown suffering mi cuerpo como la tierra

 

so he marched on my skin with white muscle memory finesse

 

Pero yo recuerdo El Pipil porque

you cannot erase la historia de mi montaña la gente que baila en my bones great

great abuelita I’ve never known

& know so well playing a wooden pipe

or some other word in Spanish

in a memory I never had

& will never let go

 

Mis manos no pueden olvidar

the dirt in the corners of my ancestors’ lives El oro of their laughter en mi sangre

where a white scalpel tried to cut me

but only dug a well

 

Escuchame señor doctor –

are you confused in just one language?

 

Porque en la frontera de mi lengua y my tongue I know I am a horizon y no soy confundido

 

originally published in DRUNK IN A MIDNIGHT CHOIR