National Poetry Month Day 5: “ESL” by Jericho Brown



You come with a little
Black string tied
Around your tongue
Knotted to remind
Where you came from
And why you left
Behind photographs
Of people whose
Names need no
Pronouncing. How
Do you say God
Now that the night
Rises sooner? How
Dare you wake to work
Before any alarm?
I am the man asking,
The great grandson
Made so by the dead
Tenant farmers promised
A plot of land to hew.
They thought they could
Own the dirt they were
Bound to. In that part
Of the country, a knot
Means something you
Get after getting knocked
Down, and story means
Lie. In your part
Of the country, class
Means school, this room
Where we practice
Words like rope, because
We hope to undo your
Tongue, so you can tell
A story or make
A promise or grow a lie.

Jericho Brown

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →