The Crossing of Our Accents
A sledge hammer driving railroad
spikes into tracks. That’s how my father
Thirty-two years in the country I call my home
is not enough time for his Syrian tongue to slither
around the Cyrillic alphabet.
Among its rolling sounds and letters
with too many squiggles and tails, my father
still feels a foreigner. A hyena
bathing in the Neva River. A king
with no crown or throne.
How do we rate the perfection of language?
I’ve been told my English is perfect
countless times. The accent is flawless—
not fully gone but just enough of it left to keep
people wondering about my origin.
Five rubles tossed into a wishing well
filled with cents—
in America, people welcome me
as long as my voice entertains.
I feel Russian dangling from my tonsils,
but when I channel my firstborn tongue,
my mother cries out in what I hear as perfection,
the rumbling language of those left behind.
You sound like a foreigner
who knows Russian really really well.
Посмотри, что со мной сделала Америка.
Then look at what Russia did to my father.
From years of casting the steel
of nonnative vocabulary, we molded
our own versions of accents.
With conjugations that choke my father’s neck
and lax vowels skewing my jaw, listen to our mouths
join the choir of second-hand syllables.
Hear them grow louder.
Get ready to misunderstand.