On New Horizons and Home Shores

Language teaching can be a bittersweet undertaking, as the narrator of Patrick Dougherty’s ‘On Teaching’ knows. It can be with mixed feelings that one watches one’s students sail away to new horizons. 

But as Olivia Or shows in ‘A Mother in Six Tones’, the feelings of learners towards language can also be complex, and the yearning for home shores profound.

Insightful alone, these two works together provide a thought-provoking duality of perspective.


On Teaching

You forever feel
to the shore

It’s mystical in doses
harsh and brittle in pieces
like cuts of glass falling
through water by degrees

Like a builder of ships
you saw
tear apart
curse and sweat

Then all you can do 
is stand on the shore and wave
as the creations wrought from your toil
slip their coils
take sail
and disappear


A Mother in Six Tones

It was not long after my birth
that I discovered the faults of this language, this
arbitrary mouth slosh, 
zero-sum tonguing game,
this slap of syllables inside teeth
that could disorient this iron tower of stoicism 
called father.

I was not warned that to learn 
was to lose,
that every iota of Anglo-clarity,
every instance of Enguistic mastery 
was a willful forgetting
of a mother I never knew:
a mother in six tones
who was not prepared 
to be hosted in the bodies of gwai mui daughters
across the Pacific.

Not until I was told
(by the only mother I’ll ever know), 
that prayer is a sigh, 
would I remember 
is the language
of home.



Visit 2014 Vol. 1 for more ‘On Teaching and Learning’, and 2014 Vol. 2 for more ‘On Teachers’For more on language and identity, see the 2018 Vol. 1 poetry page ‘On language, place and culture’.

‘The Surface of the Sea’ (top right) by yamachem was retrieved from https://openclipart.org/detail/250766/the-surface-of-the-sea