The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
JUDGES 12: 5-6
First you lose the particular way
your mouth once knew to say
the word country, or mother,
or any word at all and then, you lose
your country. And then, you forget
you ever even had a country. You
can’t conceal a crack—even when
it is sealed, a sliver remains. Say
listen—without the t. Say buffet
and not buffet. Say arch, not ark.
Say air, not hair. Say bear, not beer.
Say bomb, say comb, say numb,
say crumb without the b. Say debt
and not mean death. Say honor,
say apple—without the h. Say
simile, not smile. Do not smile
when you are asked where your
accent is from, though strangers
can’t agree on whether or not you
have one. Say dolphins have accents
too and no one ever asks a dolphin
where it is from. No one ever asks
the light at the end of the proverbial
tunnel for its papers. The GPS says it’s
My Lamb Street but how do you say it?
Me Lamb? If not your voice, your face
gives you away. You’re not from here.
Ayokunle Falomo is Nigerian, American, and the author of AFRICANAMERICAN’T (FlowerSong Press, 2022), two self-published collections and African, American (New Delta Review, 2019; selected by Selah Saterstrom as the winner of New Delta Review’s 8th annual chapbook contest). A recipient of fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and MacDowell, his work has been anthologized and published in print and online: The New York Times, Houston Public Media, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Texas Review, New England Review, Write About Now among others. He is currently a Zell Postgraduate Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program, where he obtained his MFA in Creative Writing—Poetry.