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Third Language

Poetry is not English.
—Ian Krieger

In high school I kept
a diary in English,
so if the teacher
caught me, and she did,
she wouldn’t understand.
I had a small vocabulary
and even less to say:
“The weather’s getting warm,”
I confessed in a foreign language.

My first class in Los Angeles,
on June evenings,
in the palm-plumed dusk,
was a typing course.
For rhythm, the instructor played
“The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
On an ancient manual, in cross-fire
of night students pounding
on the jamming keys,
I machined a sinister language:
Dear Sir: Due to circumstances
beyond our control….

College was a subordinate clause.
I bartered my youth
for footnotes to Plato.
I was a mouse in the auditorium,
scribbling neat, useless notes,
eating out my heart in the heart
of the Research Library.
One week I graded three hundred
freshman papers on the death penalty.
I didn’t want to graduate.
Life was penalty enough.

I had to learn a third language,
an on-off code in the brain
it takes nightmares to crack—
words husked from the grain of things,
Adamic names that fit
animals like their own pelts;
fluent as flowers, rare as rubies,
occult atoms in the lattices of sleep.

To be silent and let it speak.


Ioanna-Veronika Warwick, a widely published poet and translator, was born in Poland and now lives in California.