Heritage Language

By Jessica Kirzane

We’re at a point at which

We know nothing

About who we are.

Immersed in facts

We drown in uncertainty

And search for evidence

On which to ground our sense of self


And purpose.

We are yearning to teach pasts

Something of ourselves.

The new that infuses us

With energy and rebellion

Fills our lungs, our mouths.

Yet, still, the words we choose

Are needles sewing guilt into

The fibers of our conversation.


But what is the mother tongue

That kisses us awake,

The father tongue whose sentences were

Deftly, lovingly diagrammed

By a linguist who more often spoke some other

More highly regarded language,

The tongue of gossip that whispers in our ears

In information networks

Linking us to some other land?


And when can the legacies of feeling

And learning

Reverse themselves so we can

Reach backward and forward

Both giving and taking?


I’d like us to break with the

Assumptions that the classroom

Is sterile as its barest walls.

Could it be the maternity ward

Of some new relation to language and the self

And to each other?


I’m asking about the

Continuity of the classroom

In which I bequeath what I teach

In ways intimate and obstinate

In song and celebration or

Dry and pedantic perhaps but still

Kindling for students’ communication.


I’m thinking about the

Commitment to the community of the classroom:

Not the overabundance of longing to become

One with some past,

But the generous gift of our time together

The exchange of words wrapped in care.

There are no rubrics to evaluate

The pleasure taken in a voice become familiar

After weeks of shared speech.


How did we reach this point

After all the reading and research

And remaking of the self?

And could it be possible to try to stay here,

Settle and build a home for ourselves

In this sea of hesitation

And productive improbability?