Border Speak

By Nihal Mubarak

I know my tongue well   spent years training it         though sometimes it bends 
to its own will        sometimes my tongue betrays me   clings to many histories
In the airport the woman at the counter says       have a safe flight       I want to say
thank you     but  insha’Allah  tumbles out  instead      My tongue is strong   resilient
holds onto Arabic     its first love        before English was a colonizing force    before
the muscle atrophied       became withered     ugly         twisting to make room
for consonants           when it favored vowels        & guttural  heavy sounds      My tongue
refuses to forget       pulls from a word bank         belonging to my ancestors    copies my
mother        and forms the sounds for words       I can’t use         

mouth or borderland?
no barbed wire fences here 
just a sharp tongue, stiff


Nihal Mubarak is a Sudanese American writer whose work centers on themes of home and the African diaspora. Her poetry and fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Solidago, The Gordian Review, Copper Nickel, Mizna, Arkana, and elsewhere. Nihal teaches college English and creative writing and holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College.

Image Credit: “A CALLIGRAPHY OF WIND_SWEPT CLEAN” by Toti O’Brien

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