Common Tongue (Miguel Jacq)

Verity La Heightened Talk

i.

A weekday, cocooned somewhere in my twenties,
one father and his son
suspended in a lift shaft

an everyday moment,
a faraday cage moment
until a phone call makes it through.

I can tell it’s family,
          — it’s bad news
since it’s midday in Melbourne
and my father is speaking French.

I understand without comprehending,
the kind of departure that soon sends us
tearing off Tullamarine tarmac,

leaping over oceans
to cast an urn full of ashes
into a smaller sea.

 

ii.

Jetlag travels in both directions,
my eyes drying out from aeroplane air
          rolling on repeat,
my father accidentally translating
his mother tongue into itself.

I have to put in the hard yards
with this language —

some sleep deprived badger
recessed deep within
summons the strength
                       to build struts,

                       construct dam walls
around these strange words,
make them pool up, loosen the
wet sand in my mind.

We are at home in the west, sharing
grand-père’s house with memories
                       others have of him
until I begin to dream in my father’s tongue,

right at that thirteenth hour
                       before we return,
resuming what flows naturally
— in a sunburnt country the
dam dries fast.

 

iii.

A weekday, suspended in my thirties,
butterflies in the stomach

for this son whose father is waking,
                 at midday in Melbourne,
from a long dream.

He speaks in English, all instinct now,
with an accent only the nurses detect
because to me it’s just his voice

(His brothers say his French has lashes
of Australian — inflections I hear better
because I rarely hear it.)

My mother is there; she doesn’t use it
but I know she has a French accent
perfected with training, though
she only learnt the present tense

and sometimes we have to agree
to disagree about the past,
let the ashes fall like tarred rain
in different directions.

The nurses seem satisfied, in the way
a brisk wind suggests no nonsense
so I type good news for grand-mère,
                       — press send —  
my bad grammar leaping over oceans

confirming that her son is out
              of his cocoon,

the dam walls cracking in my throat,
the common tongue rushing out.

 


Miguel Jacq is a poet from Melbourne and a two-time winner of the Nillumbik Ekphrasis Poetry award, as well as being shortlisted for the New Shoots and Australian Poetry Science poetry prizes.