(Un)spoken Word

Emma Jennings' poem explores the role language has played at different stages through her life: the words that would take her through school, then puberty, then to different countries.

by Emma Jennings

Photo credit: Sam Canvin http://www.samcanvin.com

I learnt to form the words.
This said dog and that said cat,
I’d quickly learnt to distinguish that.
I was taught French at school
But in the pool with un garçon
I was too shy to say Bonjour.
Swirling under the watery war:
The ego arms ducked down id’s head,
with pubescent hormones and monthly dread,
I produced pheromones and gleaned
unbalanced acts with unbalanced teens.
I’d begun to learn social languages
and separate the body into parts,
observing eyes and hands and hearts.

I learnt to form the words.
I went on to travel different borders,
learning accents, inflections, actions,
cutting corners to common slang.
At uni I’d learnt the art to harangue,
debate and diplomatically speak.
I dilly dallied with drink­-addled geeks
I learnt to wink and not to spill,
fearing bad repute and social ills.

I’d been greeted in awe or ill rapport
Just for the way I spoke without cause.
Posh English; a Berlin club reject,
I made my way to another inn,
Wondering just what grounds they had
to judge my speech or race or skin?

I learnt to form the words.
It was raining cats and dogs in England
yet trolls in my French friend’s old phrase.
Ironic the mocking of separate idioms
aided our bonding for days.
I now understood the nod of approval,
the declining shake of the head.
And how often subtle movements in life
Can only –­ in subtle gestures –­ be said.

But I didn’t need to form words with you.
My lungs were already breathing out hearts,
a transparency felt in the speech without marks.
We configured open hands and dimples,
Interpreted touch and surging chemicals.

You could have been from another world,
An island, a boat or foreign land.
I could have spoken in complex tongues
Lost limbs or legs or arms or hands,
But it wouldn’t have mattered.
Not one bit.

Because all matter was conveyed
All matter conveyed
In one,
Just one,
Little look.


Emma Jennings | @emjen92 | website