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.
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
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
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
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
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