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by Sasha W

You tap out a beat in the front seat of our broken down blue van
A/C spluttering, struggling to bring in only LA heat
rogue smile through your full beard
singing along with me, the small brown girl sitting in the back
legs dangling happily off the seat
as you teach me my A-B-Cs—
A for assimilation
B forgetting the brown
C for Columbus, not Colombo—
that song that every immigration child knows

When I started learning letters at school
I rushed home to tell you proudly
all the words I couldn’t say in class
D for defiant
E for exotic
F for forgotten, not forgettable
sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table
No. 2 yellow pencil in hand
tapping my foot against the table leg
painstakingly writing between the lines and
erasing any mark made outside

I inherited your smile and your alphabet.
You pulled me onto your lap
and quietly taught me the code their alphabet left out:
L = D
O = U
V = T
E = Y
As you left for work early morning and came home late at night
For a quick kiss where I thought I could smell the tired,
but you promised it was only tea, with milk and sugar, the British way,
and then fell asleep on the couch, watching the big screen TV

I would crawl on top of you, head resting on your chest
and sneak into your dreams
swirl into your blood
and soak up everything you swore to forget

the mother who you couldn’t bury
the sister still in Kuli
the pain of leaving a country
that you can never return to
though you used to try

20 years later, I relearned your alphabet
Your akuru
a for amma
b for baashaava
c for kaduwa
imagined that rogue smile coming back
heard the emotions competing in your voice
gruff, over a crackly phone line paid for in rupees by the minute
as your daughter spoke the language
you tried so hard to protect her from.

Sasha W_author photoSasha W was born and raised in Southern California, in the warm and sunny suburbs of LA. Sasha identifies as a queer, Sri Lankan, South Asian educator, organizer, and sometimes poet. Currently, Sasha is part of DeQH, Desi LGBTQ Helpline for South Asians, which is the only helpline run by and for queer South Asians in the US; the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), a national federation of LGBTQ API organizations; East Coast Solidarity Summer, a political education weekend for South Asian youth; and national queer South Asian organizing efforts. Sasha works as a social justice educator and trainer with students in Madison, Wisconsin.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ajay Parasram #

    This is a beautiful poem!

    July 22, 2014
  2. Sasha W #

    Thanks Ajay – I really appreciate that!

    September 7, 2014

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