The Accent

He shakes your hand

in a crowded room, he shakes

your hand and leans in close

to whisper I like your accent.

 

A long moment while two questions

wind like tops in your head. One: why

is he whispering? Is the secret

my accent or his liking?

Two: what accent?

 

Dropped consonants, intonation,

swallowed vowels. He heard you

speak and heard the town your

mother was born in. A woman’s

voice is never not

a feminist issue. Speaking up

means speaking.  

 

To be foreign, even falsely,

is an instructive privilege

for the minutes you’re allowed

to wear that borrowed coat.

Your rural roots sound

exotic to his urban ear and

there are places where being born

three hundred miles away

makes anyone a barbarian

despite global citizenship

 

so you say thank you with

your prairie accent, putting 

the Turtle Mountains and the

General Strike behind

the words, and say it for all

the times your mother

refused to speak in public, for

the professor who wished aloud

that you were more urbane, for

your grandmother’s twitching

lips, for Nellie McClung’s

mock Parliament and Margaret

Laurence’s nuisance grounds. By our

goddamn accents you shall know us.

Published online September 01 2010.


The Keystone of Canadian Poetry Turns 35 cover image

This piece was published in ‘The Keystone of Canadian Poetry Turns 35,’ the Fall 2010 issue of CV2.

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