Not one of those people

November 25, 2006

I’m not one those English people pretending to be Welsh.
I do not speak your language. I do not understand your
landscape. Your weather systems – tearing through your
valleys, blasting your cliffs and bringing down your trees,
stagger me with their violence. My mother is Welsh.
She speaks your language, slips into it as easily as an
umbrella turned over in winter. When she finds a
Welsh bus driver, a new Welsh person working in her
local English corner shop, her English vowels are scrambled,
tongue clicks into new shapes, and the Welsh she has no use for
is shaken out like a rolled up bedspread or a map – dust
rising up in cast off clouds and settling silent as soft shoes.
Once, when I was six or eight and my mother was hoovering,
I was making a nuisance of myself. Wailing and crashing like a
small ocean, treading on the wires of my mothers tail, deliberately
getting in the way. My mother, turned off the hoover and
grabbed me by the waist, pulled me up, legs akimbo,
forcing my arms around her damp from working vest and
sang to me, words I didn’t understand. Words that sounded
made up. Words she had no use for. Words that slid like iron
from her lips and slipped into my skin like a cold and sunny day.
I couldn’t sleep without them for months. Not until I had them,
hard wired amongst my TV jingles and night time prayers.
Sometimes, I would take this small fragment of my mothers tongue
to school and recite it over and over: the story of a horse
that fell into a river and then got up again. I asked my mother
to teach me Welsh, to help me move my tongue in different ways,
to click and snap my lips, to talk about her lost hills and valleys
and weather systems, to roll my words in earth and salt and rain –
we never got around to it.

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