European Day at Birmingham Literature Festival
You can time your journey
through this city by how long it takes
to hear a syllable of English. Twenty minutes
is the mean. Korean on the campus, Portuguese
on one end of a phone, laughing Spaniards
teach each other tic-kets on the bus.
Belarusian, Armenian, Hungarian, Bulgarian,
Gagauz, German, Greek, Polish, Moldovan,
Slovak, Yiddish, Russian, Rusyn, Krymchak
Crimean Tatar, Azerbaijani, Karaim, Romani, Romanian
are the languages of Ukraine. Writers war displaced
from Donetsk to Kiev use English to discuss
the role of conflict in their art.
You might fade from Europe. English won’t,
an Italian opines. Expunged of you and angst
and beauty it will morph into convenience.
Innocent of languages, you won’t stop chasing
subtitles to Welsh and Scandi crime scenes.
Galicians, Poles, Germans, Turks, Swedes have
spoken English to you today. The end of hesitation
is where the poetry lies.