I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
One of the things I love about gathering with friends and family is the reconnection with our common language, our shared phrases, our shared stories. It’s such a gift to be with people who you don’t need to explain anything to. My friends Trish and Heather have something we say to each other all the time and it’s simple. We say: I already know that. And sometimes we mean, yes, we already know that, and sometimes we mean, I didn’t know that actual thing, but I know you and so I sort of already knew that too. It makes us laugh. I already know that.
My grandmother always called my mom, “my little chicken liver lover,” and just yesterday I was calling to my dog and said, “Come here you little chicken liver lover.” My father and his wife, Linda, tell this story where they were so tired he said, “I love you hoooney.” And now they say it all the time to each other to indicate how exhausted they are.
I also love it when the secret intimate languages we make start to evolve and turn into something much larger or different than how they began. The way language changes and shifts into something that only two people can fully understand has always moved me.
In today’s poem by Yalie Saweda Kamara, we see how a misheard phrase becomes an eternal saying between a mother and daughter. Here we see how the magic of language is not always in the right pronunciation, but in the right feeling behind the words.
by Yalie Saweda Kamara
While sipping coffee in my mother’s Toyota, we hear the birdcall of two teenage boys in the parking lot: Aiight, one says, Besaydoo, the other returns, as they reach for each other. Their cupped handshake pops like the first, fat, firecrackers of summer, their fingers shimmy as if they’re solving a Rubik’s cube just beyond our sight. Moments later, their Schwinns head in opposite directions. My mother turns to me, revealing the milky, John-Waters-mustache-thin foam on her upper lip, Wetin dem bin say? Besaydoo? Nar English? she asks, tickled by this tangle of new language. Alright. Be safe dude, I pull apart each syllable like string cheese for her. Oh yah, dem nar real padi, she smiles, surprisingly broken by the tenderness expressed by what half my family might call thugs. Besaydoo. Besaydoo. Besaydoo, we chirp in the car, then nightly into our phones after I leave California. Besaydoo, she says as she softly muffles the rattling of my bones in newfound sobriety. Besaydoo, I say years later, her response made raspy by an oxygen treatment at the ER. Besaydoo, we whisper to each other across the country. Like some word from deep in a somewhere too newborn-pure for the outdoors, but we saw those two boys do it, in broad daylight, under a decadent, ruinous, sun.
"Besaydoo" by Yalie Saweda Kamara. Used by permission of the poet.