duct duct duct DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories   duct
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funny english lesson with relatives in Taiwan
(no one will laugh)

Jeff Lee

No one will say how long ago
they stopped talking or
even relaying phone messages,
but because we came 12,000 miles to visit
they attend the banquet together.
She leaves suddenly with their kid

          and later at their place alone
the husband watches CNN-Asia,
turns his back on us, drinks, smokes and phones
three times... Is she ever coming?
When she shows an hour later
he forces me and the kid on the couch
into practice conversation
before a huge aquarium of lumbering orange fish
right beside the Asian anchorwoman's perfect English.
But the boy never gets to speak:
each time he flounders, his father's tongue
spears each near-whisper like a wriggling fish.

Then he yells at me: "Speak louder!"
          (meaning, so he can hear),
"and slowly "
          (so he can interfere).
He yells in all the answers the kid misses
like a middle-aged teacher's pet.

          At last the boy writes to me
in English with a pen and pad
(because it's easier to write and be wrong
than to sound wrong instantly):
"My father likes drink beers."
          Snatching it up, his father shouts: " TO! "
and he glares at me
          (meaning: Don't you agree? Shouldn't it be- )
while correcting his son: "'My father likes to drink beers.'"

          I have to tell him he's right again,
but I nod to my nephew's unstubbled face
that I understand.
          His affable eyes do not plead-
he is so used to this job he has had:
to explain and explain and explain his dad
without being able to say a thing.

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