Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Fifty years ago my older brother brought home
the first tape recorder I’d ever seen, a little box
that pulled my voice out of the air and spun it back
transformed, whiny, stuffed-nose, singsong.
I stared at Dave: Could that be how I really sounded?
Like Speedy Gonzales, the cartoon mouse? He just
pressed a button and played it again, trying not to grin.
From then on, I obsessed over my pronunciation,
labored to distinguish beach from bitch
and bum from bomb, so no one would wonder
where I learned my English. Where are you from?
How much it meant to me to avoid that question!
For years I practiced until I spoke like a proper Yankee,
not a refugee from the Central American wars.
Or so I thought. Then a clerk at Stop-N-Go asked if I
came from Pakistan: he said I talked just like his dentist.
At least, I thought, he isn’t thinking, Spic.
Time to make peace with what could not be fixed.
This morning I listen to myself on my iPhone,
rehearsing a poem I will read tonight, and catch
in my tone a lilt that’s gently foreign,
like a distant song.