Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Poems: "Kicking the Habit" — by Lawson Fusao Inada


Late last night, I decided to
stop using English.
I had been using it all day—

talking all day,
listening all day,
thinking all day,
reading all day,
remembering all day,
feeling all day,

and even driving all day,
in English—

when finally I decided to
stop.

So I pulled off the main highway
onto a dark country road
and kept on going and going
until I emerged in another nation and . . .
stopped.

There, the insects
inspected my passport, the frogs
investigated my baggage, and the trees
pointed out lights in the sky,
saying,
“Shhhlllyyymmm”—

and I, of course, replied.
After all, I was a foreigner,
and had to comply . . .

Now don’t get me wrong:
There’s nothing “wrong”
with English,

and I’m not complaining
about the language
which is my native tongue.
I make my living with the lingo;
I was even in England once.
So you might say I’m actually
addicted to it;
yes, I’m an Angloholic,
and I can’t get along without the stuff:
It controls my life.

Until last night, that is.
Yes, I had had it
with the habit.

I was exhausted,
burned out,
by the habit.
And I decided to
kick the habit,
cold turkey,
right then and there
on the spot!

And, in so doing, I kicked
open the door of a cage
and stepped out from confinement
into the greater world.

Tentatively, I uttered,

“Chemawa?     Chinook?”

and the pines said

“Clackamas, Siskiyou.”

And before long, everything else
chimed in with their two cents’ worth
and we had a fluid and fluent
conversation going,

communicating, expressing,
echoing whatever we needed to
know, know, know . . .

What was it like?
Well, just listen:

Ah, the exquisite seasonings
of syllables, the consummate consonants, the vigorous
vowels of varied vocabularies

clicking, ticking, humming,
growling, throbbing, strumming—

coming from all parts of orifices, surfaces,
in creative combinations, orchestrations,
resonating in rhythm with the atmosphere!

I could have remained there
forever—as I did, a will.
And when I resumed my way,
my stay could no longer be

“ordinary”—

as they say,
as we say, in English.

For on the road of life,
in the code of life,

there’s much more to red than

“stop,”

there’s much more to green than

“go,”

and there’s much, much more to yellow than

“caution,”

for as the yellow
sun clearly enunciated to me this morning:

“Fusao. Inada.”

 *     *     *     *     *

Lawson Fusao Inada is an emeritus professor of writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland and was the fifth poet laureate of the state of Oregon, serving from 2006-2010.

Inada's work has been recognized with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts,  the American Book Award, the Oregon Book Award and the Pushcart Prize.

He is the author of three collections of poetry—Legends from Camp, Before the War and Drawing the Line, in which the above poem is included. He is also the coeditor of two ground-breaking anthologies of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature: The Big Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature and Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. So lovely.

    ReplyDelete