On the acquisition of language

I wonder often if:

the space I occupy and

the words I speak are

truly my own.


If I am entitled or worthy

or good enough to lay claim

to words I try to make mine,

as they run and disappear in

my lack of enunciation,

my uncomfortable pronunciation –


When I speak in a language

Mama cannot comfortably maneuver –

but I am uncomfortable

with anything but this.

When I am startled,

shocked even,

at how quickly the thoughts

tumble through my mouth.


at the point of pride that

was my prowess with words

that were never mine-

especially because

they were never mine.


When I think back

to days of Catholic school classrooms,

where we were told to think

in a language that didn’t belong to us,

to abandon pride in our past,

and that rush of complacency

because I did it without being told,

because I laughed when others could not,

because it set me on a pedestal.

It made me better.


I remember

the carefully cultivated sense of shame

nurtured by adolescent cruelty –

my face burning at Mama’s hesitance with

words that came so naturally to me,

my disregard of sacrifices,

of her embarrassment

of my privilege.


And now,

“When did you learn?” they ask.

And often, so often

I am tempted.

I am tempted to ask how,

how they learned to think,

to live,

to say.


But these words,

They are not mine

And I have no claim over them.

or, for that matter,

over those that

were meant to be my own.


For we are children of

legacies that took our tongues,

but left no adequate substitutes,

no replacement we could

build  our fortresses around,

and we are forever lost

and forever stumbling.


~ Sanaa Jatoi


Sanaa hails from Karachi and studied International Relations at Mount Holyoke College. She is currently trying to figure out what to do with her life, and continues to write in the meantime. She tweets at @sanaajatoi.

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