It was interesting. I didn't really 'get' Carol Ann Duffy at Sixth Form. I found the poems vaguely disturbing, and over my head. This time round, I found some gems - poems which actually spoke to me. This one, in particular, made sense in a way I could never have imagined 13 years ago.
Imagine living in a strange, dark city for twenty years
There are some dismal dwellings on the east side
and one of them is yours. On the landing, you hear
your foreign accent echo down the stairs. You think
in a language of your own and talk in theirs.
Then you are writing home. The voice in your head
recites the letter in a local dialect; behind that
is the sound of your mother singing to you,
all that time ago, and now you do not know
why your eyes are watering and what's the word for
You use the public transport. Work. Sleep. Imagine one
you saw a name for yourself sprayed red
against a brick wall. A hate name. Red like blood.
It is snowing on the streets, under the neon lights,
as if this place were coming to bits before your eyes.
And in the delicatessen, from time to time, the coins
in your palm will not translate. Inarticulate,
because this is not home, you point at fruit. Imagine
that one of you says Me not know what these people mean.
It like they only go to bed and dream. Imagine that.
Thankfully, I don't have to worry about the hate names here (the SVP posters, maybe, but no hate names), and at least the Swiss French like the English accent... but this struck a chord. The struggle of trying to convey your thoughts in another language. The frustration when you just don't know the right word for something in the shops - or in my case, the embarrassment of carefully demanding 'un petit truc pour prendre la température' only to be told that the word I want is 'thermomètre'.
But it is odd, to be a foreigner. Today I discovered (when talking to a friend) that one of the other outpatients at ergothérapie is also English. I hadn't even noticed her English accent, and presumably she didn't notice mine. We are both so accustomed to being foreigners we don't recognise a fellow countryman when we hear them.
Sometimes I feel like I am loosing my English as my mind fills up with French. I quite often pause, in the middle of a sentence, groping for a word - and these days, I am just as likely to do that in one language as another. I talk in English about people 'supporting' pain when I mean 'cope with', because the French is 'supporter'. I asked my social worker if I was 'intitué' to benefits when I should have said 'avoir droit de', because 'intitulé' means 'entitled' too... but only in the sense of the name of a book. And sometimes, I come out with words which make sense in neither tongue, words which no-one can understand - even me.