If mangoes and melons and baby sisters have odes of their own, apples deserve a poem. So do apricots, bananas, and younger brothers, those very special extensions of you that are not quite you and never quite yours. They deserve words, those poemable slices of freshly-baked bread snuck out and gobbled whole that tug at the ends of the consciousness and dance tauntingly just outside the reach of the pen. Like the ungreened tops and tails of carelessly highlighted letters, the poem ghosts haunting the wrong house bring on dry spells apt to rot out the pen once and for all, by extorting rhapsodies on the sunset from the blind poet. Here’s to all the poems doomed to go unwritten, and to the devastation they leave in their wake, in which every dread you’ve ever had is coming … coming true, coming for you …
My blanket looks like an angry elephant, judging me for too much feed-scrolling. On the tiles in the wall, two faces form and unform: a cavalier with a pencil-moustache, his mouth open in shock, and an old lady looking upon me in amused consternation. They are identical in all the tiles, fading in and out in sync, a gallery of each kind of face like a snap chat filter or a card from a photomaton. Stare at one tile long enough though, and it crumples into a craggy coast, then leaps up like a ship riding a tempest. The unicorn riding on the bows waves a hoof in greeting, and calls out to me ‘If it’s the landing that kills, you must never land.’ Build a home in the eye of the storm, and sail on, sail on, sail on and on and on, through world after world after world.
The past grinds my nerves like cabbage set against a grater, like Tom turned into a mouse and Jerry into a cat, like sugar on fried eggs. Until yesterday we studied the present, and the one certain thing in this new lenguaje que hablo, aprendo, escribo was this: yo, and only yo may have verbs that end in -o. Él, ella, usted may find other letters to end on, -a and -e and whatnot, but they may not end their verbs in -o; and yo may end verbs no other way. Today we study the past, and the certainty is kicked away like the perch under a hanged man’s feet. Yo hablé, aprendi, escribi; él, ella, usted habló, aprendió, escribió. Español, ah, español, ¡me has traicionado -! Español, o español, traidor querido, amigo perfido, what am I going to do with you? I cannot stop learning you now, present or past, future or conditional: one may not uneat a fruit bitten into, nor cast it by the wayside. I cannot stop speaking you, I cannot stop learning you, I cannot stop writing you, though all my senses be set to your present, and your past tense be turning my blood acid with ire. Muy bien; a partir de ahora, Tom es un catmouse y Jerry es un mousecat. A partir de ahora, I like my eggs salsweet, for I am willing cabbage hurling myself at the grater discs.
Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has previously appeared in Zin Daily, Litbreak, Broadkill, Rising Phoenix, Big City Lit, Constellate, Harpy Hybrid, and a number of other literary magazines. Studying life, languages, and literature from a comparative perspective across linguistic and cultural boundaries holds a particular fascination for her. Linktree.