Most people who know me know I love learning languages. I say random things in Chinese and go to French class and sing along with Russian songs in the car even though I have no idea what they’re saying. But there are other languages that cannot be written or even spoken like a foreign language can. Body language. Facial expressions. Silence. And love.

I bought this wooden plaque for a room decoration a few years ago, because it’s something that I think of a lot. Above French, Chinese, or any other language that I’ve ever desperately wanted to speak, I want to speak the language of love.

In the little poem below, I share this hope.

First Language

Oh yes. English, of course.
I don’t remember learning it.
I was barely ten when
Dickens was flying delightfully across the page
Each word tasting of cinnamon and summer
Or cold fog and acrid smoke.
But can you swap?
First languages, I mean.
I want to stop acquiring
Flawless Anglo-Saxon intricacies that
Make me sound smart.
I want to trade this
Effortless, airy dance for
An army-crawl through the dust
That will make me look like a fool.
Grammar rules can inspire but can never
Love—love, who speaks the language of love?
I stumble, switch from English mid-sentence,
Grope in the black web of language for a word
A sign, a movement, a sigh that will
Express my love for life, for you, for all humanity
For God, who spoke love into existence
And is by very nature its essence.
I study, I practice, I speak more smoothly—
Some would call me fluent.
But fluent and first language are not the same.
A first language you can’t forget, you could be
Insane and still it would flow.
So if you prick me, what pours out—which
Language, my flawless Dickens, the language I
Share with half the world?
Or intentional, painful, lovely
Love

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