To My Mother’s Father

Our sorrow and our love move into a foreign language.
–C.P. Cavafy (tr. by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

English is dead   even though you still say English
Words even though you still   put them in English order
Your English is dead   yet it tugs away from you
Like a strong dog fighting a leash   the harder

It fights the   greater is your fear
It won’t if it gets free   return En-
glish fights you like a language   you’re
Taking in school   knowing you’ll never see the country

In the spring the trees outside the window are
Alive with life in the fall alive
With death   all year the teacher’s voice slips past you
A distant ambulance in a strange city

English is dead   the one Great Dane you’ve ev-
er seen in real life howls in the street   still but its howl is
Noise to you now now   you don’t recognize
The feeling in its cry   its foreign vowels

Shane McCrae