Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Foreign

Sunday, 8 November, 2015

Egypt’s five million Copts, the last remaining major Christian sect in the Middle East, are fearful for their future in a hostile home. Yemen is now the biggest source of refugees in Africa, and at some 25 million it is as populous as Afghanistan. Talking of Afghanistan, what if the Taliban continue to expand their territorial writ, causing even more people to flee? And what if Islamic State terrorists extend their barbaric rule across Iraq and Syria? A Gallup Poll, based on data compiled from more than 450,000 interviews in 151 countries from 2009 to 2011, found that in Nigeria, which has double the population of Germany, 40 percent of the people would leave if they could. And the lesson of 2015 — for them and millions more — is that they can.

When they cross the Mediterranean or the Rio Grande, many migrants find life in the “West” comes with a price tag, and Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, looks at this side of the displaced experience in Foreign. As a professional user of language herself, Duffy asks us to consider the lot of migrants who are marginalized because of their lack of linguistic proficiency. The stress of thinking in one language and having to translate into another renders people inarticulate. The “local dialect” in the foreigner’s head is associated with the memory of a mother singing, while “writing home” is a desperate attempt to keep in touch with a lost world. Imagine that.

Foreign

Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years.
There are some dismal dwellings on the east side
and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear
your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think
in a language of your own and talk in theirs.

Then you are writing home. The voice in your head
recites the letter in a local dialect; behind that
is the sound of your mother singing to you,
all that time ago, and now you do not know
why your eyes are watering and what’s the word for this.

You use the public transport. Work. Sleep. Imagine one night
you saw a name for yourself sprayed in red
against a brick wall. A hate name. Red like blood.
It is snowing on the streets, under the neon lights,
as if this place were coming to bits before your eyes.

And in the delicatessen, from time to time, the coins
in your palm will not translate. Inarticulate,
because this is not home, you point at fruit. Imagine
that one of you says Me not know what these people mean.
It like they only go to bed and dream
. Imagine that.

Carol Ann Duffy


Comments are closed.