I Am Not A Word-Fish

I handed you a lump of wet soil
You threw it on the ground
Told me never to get your hands dirty again
I didn’t have the words to tell you
That lump of soil was me

You never liked me handing you things
“Use your words” you said
So I used words — my way.

I read every book I could get my hands on
I picked up phrases and sentences
As if they were toy blocks
And I arranged them and rearranged them
Until they said what you wanted

“What a brilliant child,” people said
As I stood there choking to death
On other people’s words
Pouring out of my throat so fast
I had no time to breathe

Do you understand yet?
Every time you call me clever
Every time you call me smart
Every time you call me brilliant
Or gifted, or talented, or gifted and talented
All I remember is choking and drowning

And I am supposed to be grateful
For being waterboarded into language
I am supposed to be happy
For choking and drowning
On other people’s words

And you thought you were helping me
When you put me in rooms full of
Children who swam in language
Like fish in water
Children who used my choking voice
As a joke between them all
You thought you were helping

You think you know something about me
Because I stuffed language down my throat
And vomited it up when needed

You think you know something about me
Because someone confused that
With being a language-fish
And threw me in the fishbowl
Until I almost drowned
Because language-fish have gills
And children
Who stuff books down their throat
For purposes of vomiting later
Only have lungs

And here’s the part
That makes me cry
Every time I think of it

I still tried to communicate
My way

I handed people lumps of dirt
I tried to hand them the mist through the trees
I let my hands flicker around my face
I handed them marbles and little ornate sculptures
I tried to show them the whole world in the color blue

I had tried so hard
To learn their language
That I choked on their books
And vomited their words
All day
Every day

They didn’t even see my language
They didn’t need it like I needed theirs
So I was not only invisible
But laughable

And you wonder why even mentioning these people
Makes me so furious I could choke all over again
And you wonder why I can’t identify with all those word-fish
And why calling me a word-fish makes me want to slap you
Until the flashbacks of choking and vomiting subside

I’ve finally wrested control of words
Against every odds that I started out with
And nobody was around to herald that achievement
Because they assumed I was a word-fish
Not a land creature vomiting words involuntarily

Nobody was around to hold me
When I vomited those words over and over again
Nobody was around to congratulate me
When I finally mastered the real use of words
Nobody was around to listen
When I used objects and body movements
To say more than words ever could

And you wonder why I resent your compliments
And you wonder why I burn with rage
When you ever, ever hint that this was easy
That I was born with a ‘gift’
That I didn’t have to claw my way
Every inch
To language
That I didn’t already have
A language
Of my own


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