Nadia Rhook: ‘a father tongue’

Nadia Rhook reading ‘a father tongue’

on father’s day we go
to the local Italian restaurant

surrounded by families, mineral water,
and gorgonzola gnocci we speculate

will you be fluent en Español, nuestra niño? hay no

I try to ask you this in Castellano but I
don’t remember the word for ‘fluid’

perfectamente? fluido?

you tell me in the language of love and invasion and uncertainty you’re
not sure if that’s the right word. it’s not familiar. flu – ee – do

the promise of the tongue’s invisible labour, the mind’s reach for the meanings folded
away somewhere in the frontal lobe, that crinkly squishy place between mouth and memory

spreading now, like breath, to fill the space between bites we begin to argue over who’ll
do the work, and make promises in the language of a law and invasion and certainty

I will learn new lullabies, arrorró mi niño, arrorró mi
amor, arrorró pedazo de mi corazón

and you? will unfurl your mother
tongue para tener una lengua nueva

Glossary (new page)

Nadia Rhook is a white settler historian, educator, and poet, currently lecturing history at the University of Western Australia, on Whadjuk Noongar land.  Her background in ESL teaching has inspired much of her historical work on the politics of language, including the 2016 heritage exhibition ‘Moving Tongues : language and migration in 1890s Melbourne’. Her poems appear in various publications, and her first poetry monograph, ‘boots’, is forthcoming with UWAP in February 2020.

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