by Janiru Liyanage
after Aria Aber
I broke into english the way a man once broke into my mother.
At the halflight of his bite, pink flesh and all teeth. The way my
mother once broke into the neighbour’s dog with her mouth; stole
and ate it raw because she was hungry and needed to survive. None
of it was graceful, and all wild brute. It took me eight starless Octobers
before I could use “I” in a poem. Now, how to let it go? The strange spill,
animal-husk, wound and hook rusting into my nape. My mother spits
blood in her dreams; cannot sleep so she comes to our rooms instead.
Names us, and we remain nameless only in the language of ash and
shadow and amen. In the ESL class, the teacher tells me to run my
tongue across my teeth when saying throat. Push it hard,
she says. So, I cleave it tenderly from my mouth – fold it into a knife, rest
it under country, cinch it inside your palm. Somedays, I can fit a complete
sentence inside me, like smoke arrowed cleanly from a rifle. Others, I find
myself gasping – in the same way when I was five, the day I got a
milk dud lodged in my throat, and because I only knew the Sinhala
word for swallow, I shouted Help, I’ve gilased it. I’ve gilased it.
Of course, no one came. They watched the stupid boy, past-tense
a past in the wrong present. My mother calls to tell me how she’s
going with her english. Tries to impress me and says, the root of song
is son meaning you are at the root of all my songs, meaning you are my
only song. I tell her she is wrong. I teach her etymology with all the languages
that have no history she can kin. I hang up and do not ask if she needs help with
anything. I am miles away, on a plane and she message me to check her
spelling in a text. Look at this and tell me if it’s right: A boy was killed today
by police. They opened him and he was read. He was read all over
the asphalt. Read all over the cold metal. Read all over his mouth,
and read in his broken throat.
I do not reply. When I land, the border patrol agent says
Your english is very good. It’s almost like you were born here.
And my body opens, hard and humble as an alms bowl.
I took the english in, gilased it gilased it,
until it glistened in me, sharp and angular and blooming red,
my wise brutish blood.
Red in my softest throat.
Janiru Liyanage is a 15-year-old school student and poet. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net with recent work appearing or featured in/on The Harvard Advocate, DIAGRAM, Frontier Poetry, The Poetry Society, [PANK], Wildness Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, The Cardiff Review, Narrative Northeast, and elsewhere. He was longlisted for The 2020 Frontier Industry Prize, is a two-year winner of the national Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards, a recipient of an Ekphrastic Award from the Ekphrastic Review and Sydney finalist of the Australian Poetry Slam. He serves as a reader for Palette Poetry and co-founded / co-edits Hyades. He has appeared on The Project and featured in Namoi Valley Independent, The Minister's Media Centre, Audition Material Young People among other places. He’s recently been commissioned to write for The Emerging Writers Festival. Born as the son of Sinhalese immigrants, he currently lives in Sydney.