This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Amaan Hyder. 



we are trying to sound out the difference between two letters in our parents’ language, d and dh, after dinner conversation

the word beginning with d means box, the word beginning with dh means someone who washes clothes

the slowest walkers can sound out the difference, the quickest not. dh is a distance you can fake, a telephone call

we will never get hold of this language on our own, single letters in the world, because we come to it now like a holiday

we have an interaction in a restaurant tucked away and will pay for the mushrooms that never came

what if we argued against fungi, pushed through with english

are we less inclined to push through with english because english isn’t the only language at home. what if we had a greater inclination to have this bill exactly right, perfect diction

the indian from india outspoken while you are quiet the indian born here

sounds we let slide, not mushrooms

the way a house by a main road gets cracks in the ceiling from traffic vibrations. the way a new widow gets hounded by men for living alone. the way we look with our inside hood pulled tight and outside hood over the top – all tongues

we make the words from our parents’ language, then from our own. we try them out in front of our parents

one is: i want to have a baby without being married. s followed by w, a wavering pronunciation in a word like sword

another is: i want to kiss the baroness’ hand where the man before has kissed it. the pat of lips on lips on a glove

fumbling over buttons: this is me and a man i meet in a bookshop. we both don’t live near enough. i should make books further than my house. i should separate bodies from bodies on a screen                      

my parents could never have been flaneurs here in england with their hue (in the seventies) and now joints (in their seventies)

i was always poor at encountering men to have sex with. though i wanted to be fluent

when we are at home, our parents often ask us to help them speak to someone who is at the door. our parents say they don’t understand the person’s accent or they can’t get their meaning across. when we speak to the person, the meaning has come across fine. we don’t need to have spoken – this as rehearsal

my parents are to english as they are to the phone when it rings

when we pick up the phone to relatives, they don’t understand our jobs unless we are doctors. they call not knowing the time of day, we can’t remember whether we’ve taken our medication. what should we do. should we take it again

in your stories of the brown men you only sleep with, the brown men are all running trials, tenants running upstairs after putting something in the microwave, stand-up comedians – itinerant, lithe, omega

from your history i can see that you always thought the brown male body the most beautiful. it has taken me half my life and i have it and i’m just as you always would be

a supposition: unevenness in financial means where there’s a relationship between two men of two ages, of two races, of two ages where there’s much pause in the middle

wet cloths hung out in an English winter. are those ever going to dry

growing up, my parents did not know anyone who lived alone. what someone does alone was/is a source of anxiety for them

wedding invitations are often decorated with first name letters (as a letter alone may sit by a profile picture), calligraphed together from a single line



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).