“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

The question plows a dint on my chest

The way the sentence ends with a doubt

wrenches my heart into a clustered shame

I must look really Asian today

For him to exercise such freedom

To claim an identity for me

To colonize my mouth with his skin

He don’t know the words I carry

“Wrong use of verb”

Or how my father sang the alphabet into my ear

“Do you mean years or ear?”

I loosely emphasize the you

I don’t understand what YOU are asking me.

Because your thin lips stutter

Your headphones cover your conscious

(I should have said)

No.

They say curse word is always the first thing

One picks up when learning a new language

Here is fuck off

I will accept your apology

When you accept my legitimacy

For I make these sounds

Out of my father’s hands

I wonder if my daughter hears my fever

Sometimes she corrects my grammar

With a sharp eraser,

Teetering the slits on my tongue.


Kaya Arnoux is a poet, visual arts teacher, and language educator born & raised in Taiwan. After making peace with her identity as an immigrant, she began to focus her writing on the inquiry of language as a colonizing medium and how reclaiming the English language as her own gives affirmation to her existence as a migrant. Her poetry investigates the meaning of tradition, family, identity, and what it means to be Asian in a racialized country. Her poetry has been published in The Rumpus, The Seventh Wave, and others. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their biracial daughter. You may follow her on twitter @ArnouxKaya and instagram @kayatalkingsense