The children in my dreams speak in Gujurati
turn their trusting faces to the sun
say to me
care for us nurture us
in my dreams I shudder and I run.
I am six
in a playground of white children
Darkie, sing us an Indian song!

in a roomful of elders
all mock my broken Gujurati
English girl! 
Twelve, I tunnel into books
forge an armor of English words.

Eighteen, shaved head
combat boots - 
shamed by masis
in white saris
neon judgments
singe my western head.

Mother tongue. 
tongue of the mother
I murder in myself.

Through the years I watch Gujurati
swell the swaggering egos of men
mirror them over and over
at twice their natural size.

Through the years
I watch Gujurati dissolve
bones and teeth of women, break them
on anvils of duty and service, burn them
to skeletal ash.

Words that don’t exist in Gujurati: 

English rises in my throat
rapier flashed at yuppie boys
who claim their people “civilized” mine. 
Thunderbolt hurled
at cab drivers yelling
Dirty black bastard! 
Force-field against teenage hoods
Fucking Paki bitch! 
Their tongue - or mine? 
Have I become the enemy?

my father speaks Urdu
language of dancing peacocks
rosewater fountains
even its curses are beautiful. 
He speaks Hindi
suave and melodic
earthy Punjabi
salty rich as saag paneer
coastal Kiswahili
laced with Arabic, 
he speaks Gujurati
solid ancestral pride.

Five languages
five different worlds
yet English
before white men
who think their flat cold spiky words
make the only reality.

Words that don’t exist in English: 

If we cannot name it
does it exist? 
When we lose language
does culture die? What happens
to a tongue of milk-heavy
cows, earthen pots
jingling anklets, temple bells, 
when its children
grow up in Silicon Valley
to become

Then there’s American: 
Kin’uh get some service? 
Dontcha have ice? 
May I have please? 
Ben, mane madhath karso? 
Tafadhali nipe rafiki
Donnez-moi, s’il vous plait
Puedo tener…..

Hello, I said can I get some service?! 
Like, where’s the line for Ay-mericans
in this goddamn airport?

Words that atomized two hundred thousand Iraqis: 
Didja see how we kicked some major ass in the Gulf? 
Lit up Bagdad like the fourth a’ July! 
Whupped those sand-niggers into a parking lot!

The children in my dreams speak in Gujurati
bright as butter
succulent cherries
sounds I can paint on the air with my breath
dance through like a Sufi mystic
words I can weep and howl and devour
words I can kiss and taste and dream
this tongue
I take


— Shailja Patel, Migritude