Inspired by reading Agha Shahid Ali’s ghazals, Stephanie (Stephen) Burt’s essay on Ali, and Natasha Trethewey’s ghazal “Miscegenation,” I decided to try my own. I invited students in my poetry class to also write a Ghazal, one that navigates any aspect of linguistic, racial, and cultural identity.
I must also add this ghazal-draft is inspired by an email I received last night from a young student from Puerto Rico who’d found and liked an old poem of mine, “What you are.” She wrote, “honestly, you have no idea how much this means to me. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to express my thankfulness.” And then she wanted to know: “hope you wouldn’t mind me asking but where are you from or your parents?”
“A place of universal exile,” I wrote back to her. Latinidad is a perfect place for that, Latina or Jewish or otherwise. Here’s my answer in a poem draft form.
~for Dayhath Marte-Herrera
A language you never learn in classrooms: Spanglish.
First and second language, “both/and” borders Spanglish.
Standard English, a blazer-dressed, distant uncle;
Tía Castellana, black laced aunt to Spanglish.
Puro amor tatooed on a gangster’s knuckles.
¿What recourse nos queda? Gloria asked in Spanglish.
El Paso, Los Cruces, La Brea, indelible
stains tar our place names in original Spanglish.
We’re creating languages of implied exile:
Ching, Hing-, and Kong- lish, Franglais, and, of course, Spanglish.
When certain consonants appear between vowels,
they’re left out (mojado/mojao), speaking Spanglish.
Díaz writes culocracy, governing culos,
a neologism coined in perfect Spanglish.
It defies collapse into single syllables,
but still it hurts boys and girls to malign Spanglish.
Oy vey, kinnehora, my grandmother grumbled.
Yinglish is my own variety of Spanglish.
Tranquila, Melisa, conjugating struggle’s
easy, si aprendes bien, lessons from Spanglish.