Zack Lesmeister – “Tongue Eulogy”

The education system taught me
I could be anything I wanted, as long as I spoke their language. They started teaching me
French in third grade, told me a language of Romance
was all I needed to fall in love with the history
of colonization. But we remember the winter you brought us, the troops invading South Vietnam, the shrapnel coating the rice fields, the bodies turning to snow,
precipitating in the villages. Napalm, girls scream
with their skin on fire. They colonized our land,
language, and bodies, cracked heads with tanks, drowned our women in river water, colonized our language
and later my tongue. But we did not come from winter
to be frostbitten by your language, and yet… I speak to my grandmother
in both of our colonizers’ languages before Vietnamese. I want to tell her, they taught nothing
of the war our family went through. The only history they carved
into me was from the knife on the end of the rusty barrel,
a bayonet, translation baïonnette
translation lưỡi lê meaning tongue, a foreign invader, a mouth only fluent in Google Translate, a body salivating for answers, lê, from the word pear, my tongue of fruit platter
on foreign china. My tongue, only pretty
in American porcelain. My tongue an [speaking in Vietnamese]
on Barbie skin. My throat’s always
coughing up Agent Orange into every conversation. My voice has always been napalm
finding its way into the jungle. I am the result of a country
that has only known warfare in memorials. I am a footnote in your history textbook, and still here I am
reading you the house down. I’m no [speaking in Vietnamese],
Ho Chi Minh, [inaudible] Vĩnh Hưng. I am the active landmines
and the [speaking in Vietnamese] I am the souvenirs at the war museum. I am all of my ancestors
and a body forgotten by my colonizers. Where is your white savior complex now? To drag me from the trenches of my anger, to bury me in fertilizer just so I can phoenix my way
out of the ashes if I could. (audience) Yes. I’d rip your tongue from your mouth so you know what it feels like
to be a stomach so full in your culture, but not be able to taste
all its sweetness. (cheers and applause)

12 thoughts on “Zack Lesmeister – “Tongue Eulogy”

  1. There are no words for the mix of emotions a situation like this must bring, and the heartache displayed here raw for people to learn from. I always take inspiration when people are so vulnerable on stage, and gained a lot of perspective from their poem.

    I imagine this person would desire to learn vietnamese, or at least a different language, in order to help bridge that terrible gap between what colonization has forced upon them and their families culture.

    For all people in situations like this and many others, its definitely worth it to check out the HiNative app. It's an app where people help each other as native speakers learn different languages by posting questions and audio samples of pronunciation, and a lot more.

    You can both help people learn the languages you are fluent in, and learn it from others, much better than google translate or the like.

    Please take care. ā™”

  2. I'm glad I got to see this powerful poem performed instead of merely reading it. I would like to see it written as well, to see what it looks like on the page.

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