When you speak a language of apologies,
it does not matter how fluently you speak.
If it was not the language spoken by your parents,
you will always be furtively striving for fluency
despite having no one to speak it with
who wants to speak it too. Like a child with a secret code,
your uncle will shake his head and laugh
or grandmother will murmur some soft assurances
your tongue will contort across the trespassing words like
unwelcoming terrain with some solace on the other side,
so you speak a language of apologies
without anyone to translate for you, on your behalf,
and though you are not proud, you are relieved to become fluent
which means you can unstutteringly slip “I’m sorry”
into cards like a “bonjour” spoken so many times that everyone thinks
you’re trying too hard, no one will translate the rougher passages
from “I’m sorry” to “I love you” or
“I’m sorry” to “I’m just tired” or
“I’m sorry” to “thank you,” this is a language
spoken with no accent because it sounds too familiar to English
for anyone to notice a difference, but there is a difference
and it tastes bitter but no one sweetens it by speaking it with you.
This is my language, you cry, will no one understand?
God bless them, they see your distress,
but like a child looking lovingly at an animal, they hear only
a hum of what they cannot decipher.
This, you think, is your fault, and you are
By Sarah Valeika.