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Global Brotherhood

English I learned mainly because each English word
Was magical. It evoked America, the perfect world
Windowed by photographs in magazines,
And made larger than life by the wide screen.
And childhood is a time of make-believe.

Many years later, already in America,
I often felt that I was in a dream.
I often felt that I was in a movie
Along with white, colored, and Asian actors.
I often felt anxious to find the exit
Back to my own country.

My own father never went abroad.
But he had a wider lexicon.
He knew the languages of the local places he would visit.
Traveling by sea, he visited the nearby islands
And quickly learned to speak their tongues.
I am sure he knew the language
Of the wind and the waves.
Likely he read from their flowing, turbulent script,
The secret bruising currents of tidal congregations.

English, too, he knew. I presume
He must have learned it from wonder, outright.
From the book he spoke the word pais
As though to the manner born, with Castilian
Self-assurance. Once he drew a crowd
By having a leisurely chat with a Japanese tourist,
Over a cup of coffee in the neighborhood eatery.

Of course, a polyglot could be
A Casanova of words, deliberate,
Using the gift of lingual skill to dominate,
Coming in from behind to inhabit language,
To see how it works, to usurp tongue and eye—
Eavesdropper and voyeur and soul-thief.

A way of saying and seeing are, of course,
A treasure in themselves. Even pure curiosity
Is admirably innocent. My father surely was
A kind of honest Injun who would talk
In another language for years
And never breathe a word against it.
Like travel, but better, learning and speaking
Another language was unalloyed pleasure, inexpensive, too.
My father sailed the friendly seas of language,
Like a jolly swab, ready with exotic scuttlebutt.

But back at home he regained possession
Of himself. Speaking in his mother tongue
Came with difficulty—he seemed truly stranded,
Often marooned-unreachable.
He had to be what his father had to be,
And promptly lost his tongue at home,
Recovering it only for the occasional lashing.
He was afraid of being detected,
Much like Hirohito, who, crying to himself, alone,
For the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Careful not to betray the world-wide Brotherhood of Silence,
Heart-broken at not being able to live up
To the expectations of his people, nevertheless,
Nobly spoke the fateful words in Nihongo:
“I am not God.”

Language must keep us human.

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Submitted on April 11, 2011

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