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from the July/August 2021 issue

Linguistic Threads, translated by Barbara Ofosu-Somuah

Afro-Italian poet Rahma Nur describes her experience as a member of a diaspora living in Italy, noting how language marks the body and how it shapes one's sense of loss.

Words Without Borders · Rahma Nur Reads "Fili Linguistici" ("Linguistic Threads")


In that step you take
between the land that witnessed your birth
and the soil that welcomed you
there is a thread that ties them together.
An IV line.
It nourishes you with words and prepositional phrases
and long periods
you can’t analyze them
and you allow them to flow in you
between the red blood cells that run through your veins
in your dark and smooth skin
that leaves no room for conjecture
but absolute judgments:
hadaad soomaali tahay maxaad somali ugu hadlin?
wow! you speak Italian so well!
either here or there
silence reigns supreme
and the only clear answer
is nothing at all.

They say words are music
they say words are food
they say words are art
they don’t say that words create
words distance
they torment
they silence {mute} {muzzle}
in the face of other words
they don’t tell you that words are language
that there are many languages
that not everyone has them
that a mother tongue
could become a stepmother tongue
and a stepmother tongue could become a mother tongue
that they are not interchangeable
not always
and that you could spend a lifetime
without speaking a single one although
another two or three are within you.
The mother tongue heals
but it can sicken
if you don't speak it well
and you bind yourself to that stepmother tongue
like a fountain that nourishes you.

When diaspora
takes you from one country to another
choose a language
which will carry you through passages
real and imagined
a code that opens doors
in this void in which you live
other people are born and they grow
and the distance between siblings expands
there remains a single thread that unites
it’s not Somali, Dutch, or Swedish,
but hands, skin, eyes,
your entire body
filling that void
from one country to another.
It is the outer shell
that tacitly responds to questions,
that speaks for you,
because your mouth is rendered mute
by the countless languages that have invaded it.

"Fili linguistici" first published in Formafluens vol. 2, no. 1, January–April 2020 (pages 17–18). © Rahma Nur. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2021 by Barbara Ofosu-Somuah. All rights reserved.

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