BY JODIANN STEVENSON
In this Polish winter, the large white window of the bus frames the thin pink light of a little girl's finger, pointing, then again, pointing. She makes her world by naming, , pointing, samochód, pointing, ulica, pointing, ludzie, pointing... My mind turns the flashcards that tell me school, car, street, people...
I know a Vietnamese woman who recently learned English. Back during the war, she prostituted herself to four or five GIs a night. When I asked her how they were able to communicate - she explains, most of time they only want to scream and cry and she didn't understand so she howled along empathetically.
The bus is always quiet except today with this little girl pointing and naming. , . I never speak until spoken to. When her mother asks me the time, it is the first time I can answer without stumbling over the sounds, having been drawn inside the turn and dive of the language by the child's fluent voice. But my accent hangs in the air, an ugly, skinned and gutted swine. And the quiet child, folding her hands in her lap, stares at me, terrified
As if I had just grown fangs
This monster she cannot name.
Imagine the broken boys in the prostitute's arms, feeling lost in a jungle. Imagine the gibberish unleashing itself inside her wrecked body like the heroin smoke she devoured in order to allow them in. Imagine her family in the country, wondering where their little moon-faced girl has gone.
I am ill with the truth of foreigner
I wear it all over me, like an invasion.
She knows this - this little girl with her But, what-are-you stare. But she cannot know that I would cut my own dumb tongue out to be one of her kind. I want to tell her that I'm trying to speak her language. I want to tell her the truth. I want to tell her truth is lost, by what we do not know or do not know how to say. I want to tell her...
...some birds and insects let the wind carry them.
And, language flies on blossoms, blank as the mind of a fetus, slanting in with the light through forgotten doors, pulsing through emptiness like stars, demanding connection and if no connection, then death. And we are its victims. We spread open as wounds, willing sweet possession.
Her mother tells her not to worry - I'm just an American.
In wartime, sometimes families receive letters from their loved ones long after they know them to be dead. Imagine words written by a ghost. Imagine how each letter attaches to the next building a secret code of despair. Imagine, a letter from the dead, singing the same sad note rising between a prostitute and a scared soldier - the brute symphony, perpetually growling, Life is terrifying and ugly, and ugly and savage, and Why, Why can't you comfort me?
Little girl, truth is lost in what we do not know or do not know how to say. Your names are untrustworthy as tongues - the kind your grandfather will grind into sausage - and in your lifetime, they will lick every tender space inside of you until you are as raw, and foreign as me, terrified to speak.