Code Switch

by Aris Kian
“furling, sucking air into his chest, & I thought, ‘that! that is the language I want for myself.'”

In middle school I was jealous of a girl who argued
with her mother at a sleepover, all of her Spanish
sprinting to her lips. She yelled down the steps

with consonants pounding the tongue-side
of her teeth & r’s like old tires on loose asphalt.
They drag raced through their sentences,

& she folded my name into her mouth;
I leaned into how it sounded, so unlike the one
I carry, but one she summoned from letters

I’d been left out of. Last week, a friend hushed me
with a finger when she answered her father in Arabic,
cutting all of the background noise & stirring

every syllable like honey into hot tea, her throat
cupping her first words like tiny porcelain
mugs. They slipped, one by one, as she switched

into the accent we share, & I choked
on the bitter & lukewarm lilt of the language
that has colonized my foremothers’ spit

into silence, capsized into bite-size syllables
& washed upon a salty shore. I study
what I swallow over the script of my own

fingertips, & oh! I remember the first time
I ever saw someone sign. Tired of reading lips,
he flurried his hands like airborne wings,

scooping the wind & flinging it back, eyebrows
furling, sucking air into his chest, & I thought,
“that! that is the language I want for myself.”

Because, & how do I say this? For the ship-
wrecked & water-weary, flight is the only instinct
where body & breath can meet without bruising.

What I mean is, even as a child, I found myself
seeking a language that will clutch me back,
warm and rushing with a blood I cannot find

between the bark. Because, more often
than not, it is exhausting having to scream
& rejoice in the same tongue.

Aris Kian is an inaugural member of CoogSlam, 2019’s 4th in the nation collegiate poetry slam team. She is ranked #10 in the 2020 Women of the World Poetry Slam. Her work is published in Underground Journal, Panoplyzine, Defunkt Magazine and Write About Now. She is an Emerging Writers Fellow and facilitates poetry workshops for Writers in the Schools. She received her BA in English and is currently an MFA candidate for Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

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