I am not entirely convinced that Roxane Gay is a single entity. I intend to find out at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, where she will sit for panels and interviews on both Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23
Poetry is not English.
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.3