508: Rehearsal for the New World

508: Rehearsal for the New World

508: Rehearsal for the New World


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I grew up in an English-speaking household, but when we would visit my paternal grandparents, I used to love hearing my grandfather speak Spanish. Truth be told, he believed in sticking to English. Still, I remember him singing in Spanish and how animated he’d become when his original tongue was let loose in his mouth. His singing always reminded me of what freedom must feel like. All of his original music moving through him.

Regardless of what language you speak, when you do not find yourself in books or movies, you begin to wonder where you belong. If you do not belong to the place your parents or grandparents are from, it can seem as if you do not belong anywhere. There is always someone asking, “Where are you from?” over and over until you may even begin to doubt where you are from. I used to make a list of famous people who had a Mexican background: Linda Carter (who played Wonder Woman). Or  Joan Baez (Oh her long hair and her even longer notes). I thought maybe I could be like them. People who thrived in the in between. 

So many people know what it is like to feel the danger of being an outsider. To be the other. And yet, when it’s happening to us, the weight of it can feel overwhelming and crushing. How can we thrive if we do not know where we belong?

Oddly, this space of complex belonging is where poetry thrives. In today’s poem,  I love the image of a child mouthing words at the television and trying on a language, a culture, until it feels familiar. And still, the poem points out, even when we *think* we have assimilated, there is a mystery that surrounds us. Other worlds that move through us. It is not that we try on the essential American culture simply to fit in, but it is also about safety. The more we blend, the more we don’t cause a scene, the more we quietly stay out of the way, the safer we might be.

Today’s poem straddles two worlds, the world of working to find an identity and the world of remaining silent for the sake of safety. 

Rehearsal for the New World
by Hazem Fahmy

Hours before the TV, my mouth
agape, repeating after every American cartoon
endlessly. Call it a meditation;

was I not emptying my mind
of language? Mouthing every syllable,
like prayer–God, make me a true

i.e. invisible, yet

What a rush it was
to speak empire
at such a young age. Later,

I am asked: how did you get
this accent? Once, I feared
the other end of that question. Once

across the world, I learned
the danger of carrying a country
in your throat, so I did not speak

until I made sure
I could not be heard.

"Rehearsal for the New World" by Hazem Fahmy. Used by permission of the poet.