How lovely my mouth feels when tasting these words
Say it after me, he said. Hierarchy. High-er-ar-key.
Arc-tic, press down on that c.
Foyer, forget your middle school
French, not like the ay in carried away but the ur in louder,
Say it clearly. I can’t hear you.
In the middle of sentences, he would repeat my last word,
but in the right way. No, you don’t need a res-pite, he would say. It’s called
res-pit, say it after me.
In middle school, I learned French, the language of love,
how lovely my mouth felt when tasting those words,
merci beaucoup, mademoiselle, arabesque,
etoile, coeur, je ne sais quois, magnifique, oh tres magnifique!
In my first three years of life, I lived with grandparents in Beijing,
and only spoke Mandarin. Now in surveys, I mark that English is
my first language, a white lie, I cannot read or write Mandarin.
Perhaps I mean, English is the first language I remember.
In a high school Model UN competition,
I won an award for having the best accent. Ever since,
I wonder how others hear me. My boyfriend teased me that I spoke
written English, how the words looked on pages of books I loved.
It seems like somewhere in elementary school,
perhaps when I moved from kindergarten in Texas to California
or fourth grade in California to Virginia, or sixth grade in Virginia to New York,
everyone else learned the language in dictionaries, with the dashes over letters
and all those umlauts.
\ ˌän-ˈwē \
\ fə-ˈne-tik \
\ ˈprē-tər \
\ ˌa-frə-ˈdī-tē \
I cannot read or write or speak this foreign language. But
Evanescent. Incandescent. Akimbo. Incorrigible. Serendipity.
How lovely my mouth feels when tasting these words,
even if they are most beautiful in my head.