say french

say french:
who knows what lebanese is?
or syrian? (serbian? siberian?)
protectorate is close to
protector

of course there’s your culture
a tradition of teachers and doctors
an elegant descent
from phoenicians

but
immigration officials
and neighbors
employers
perplexed by exotics
non-anglo-saxon
non-westeuropean-nontoxic
attest
the best are
types here
longer

the immigration official
said to me,
syrian?
what’s
that?

(and sallow
with a menacing
guttural tongue)

your teacher accused
arabic spoken
at home :
“you have an accent”

though fearing strangers
and the foreign school
I went
showed myself
clean .. educated
stopped her

still she detested
your rivalling
the girl on her lap
whose braids she caressed
before the class

people don’t mean
to be mean
nevertheless
better say
french

by D. H. Melhem

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