Lost in Translation


You take my brother to school.
You take him roller blading.
You teach my brother how to fight because he is tough
because he wants to learn
because he has energy
(because I do not)
because he and I both came from the womb


with the “two language” setting
and for a while there were breaks in my English
where your voice broke through so I didn’t know
words like “salami” and “snack”

I have become fluent in my mother’s language, a language that you have never known,
a language full of words like ”break” “void” “empty”
and sometimes I feel an anger
so deep that I want to crack my bones on a wall,
crack my reflection in a mirror so that I can’t see myself


sometimes I feel a pain so deep that I want to crack my body open just so I could feel

anything else

and the language of cracks is one that you have never understood.

In high school you told me to get more sleep—
Il faut que tu dormes plus

but I did not because I thought that if I stayed awake for long enough
my body would divide in upon itself/ divide into nothingness/I will disappear and
Je pense que tu ne pouvrais jamais comprendre.

It made you angry when I cried and so I learned how to shout
because maybe if my decibels reached yours I wouldn’t have to speak to you in door slams
and silence.
In college I chose to study English because the language runs against my tongue
comme la mer

and I can tell you a million ways to write that
you are hurt that you are hurt that you are hurting

and French is the language that my mother learned for you but I don’t know how to translate things like la peine and l’épuisement.

In home videos that my grandmother showed me I chased you
(even then, I chased you) and you
faked fear and ran
and I declared joy in your native tongue
because I think even then I knew that it
would make you happy

but learning your language and hers means that I cannot translate myself
into the type of person it is easy to be with

and now I live in your native land, knowing it is not mine.
When I descend into the metros I mouth the words on the posters
and every breath that I take is an act of translation
and I sit on the metro and I work
and I work because French isn’t the only language I have learned
from you
and around me there are murmurs in a language of
disappointment: a language in
which I call my grandparents by their first names because
they are too distant to be called anything else
and that is not to say just geographically.

So I stay quiet to everyone that I meet
So they won’t hear the accent tripping up my tongue
That speaks of an origin of colère / arrogance / tristesse

I asked you one year in what language you dream
because your language breaks through my thoughts
(like anxious breaths that I can’t quite control)

You told me that sometimes you dream in English/French
and watching you it was as if the language of me and my mother hung on you,
ill-fitted and heavy

but still you work and you work and you
work in English
because if you have to drown, let it be in a
language that is distant enough that words
put space between you and them and if you
tu ne peut pas dire

I know that you mean well but when you shout/I shout, I want to divide in upon myselfand I don’t know when it was that I learned to crack my body into nothingness
or learned to work until my papers leave oceans between me and myself
but I want to unlearn that
and if I speak your native tongue maybe you will understand that I’m too much
like you
but I’m too much like my mother too

and in English I can break and unbreak my words (myself) until I can feel them


And I don’t know how to do that in French,
can only tell you that there are two words for knowing
and if I wrote them a million times on my skin
I wouldn’t know how to tell you all the things that I know

I follow signs to a home that is not mine and
closing my eyes,
I dream in more languages than I can count,
about my brother whose tongue is not blistering with words
and you take him to school and he does not cry

and I?

I am across the ocean with not enough languages to ask,
“was I not your child too?”


— This poem appears in
Are We Europe #3: Uprooted

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