why do I learn another language?
so that I can share in your anguish;
A sorrow shared is half a sorrow;
but who can share sorrow in a language borrowed
"O si vous avez des yeux que vos yeux s'emplissent de larmes."[i]
But they don't have eyes: they don't see the harm
in everyone speaking their language
atrophied as their minds languish
at your feet is the same damned dish
of second hand adverbs and adjectives.
Day after day the same prison food to the non-native tongue tastes so crude
unable to express the subtlety of my mood
"I'm not trying to be rude I read all the way through to Jude
but there was no Revelation
I was expecting some kind of elevation
but you gave me French when I needed Haitian."
I can't describe the sensation that I saw
when I sang "Chamo Kwoni gibala”[ii]
when I sang "Nkosi sikelele
I can't describe the sensation that I saw when I sang
"Kwaze kwa wonakala"[iv] with a Kenyan woman exiled in
I can't describe the sensation that I saw “Jesu da ho ya”[v]
I can't describe the sensation that I saw “Hol no mbitiye da”[vi]
I can't describe the sensation that I saw…
because I didn't feel it, except vicariously
Oh how the mother tongue must hang precariously
on the lips of a motherless child who's too scared to sleep.
Yes, a sorrow shared is half a sorrow
weeping may remain for a night
but rejoicing, tomorrow.
because the other half of the proverb's also right:
Joy shared is twice a joy…
[i] “O if you have eyes, may your eyes fill with tears” – Chants Kabylie 1982 Anonymous Algerian Poet
[ii] The opening line of a traditional Kenyan song in Luo (?) a Bantu language spoken by a minority of Kenyans. The song is about a monkey stealing fruit; an arrangement by Mwashuma Nyatta ’02 was performed by the Kuumba Singers in the spring of 2002.
[iii] “God Bless Africa” – Xhosa, the opening line of the South African National Anthem
[iv] First line from a Swahili Christian song – “When He comes I will be like Him”
[v] Christian song in Kikuyu, a Kenyan language spoken by the largest ethnic group of
[vi] “What is your Name” – Pulaar, a West African Language