For Peggy Robles-Alvarado


The language of my ancestors was stolen

By European settlers
Or their American descendants.
They thought the sound of it
Was pure gibberish, garbled
Word salad served
On thin air, harsh on their delicate
Coloniser ears.
The tongue they heard
Was far from being mangled
Verbs and nouns.
It was a linguistic
Tell-tale sign of a land
No longer home.
The only property
They had left from old lives
In Gabon,
Country that sits on Africa’s west coast
Between Cameroon and the Congo, wedged—
The keepsake
My ancestors spoke,
Learned and owned,
Uniquely theirs, before
Being taken by force
To this alien land by boat,
So unlike the okoumé-filled rainforests
Sheltering elephants and apes and warm streams
And open savannahs golden-hot like the sun
The Ateke tribe were used to,
Ferried to a realm of dogwood trees,
Corn and tobacco crops grown to be
Plucked from tall stalks and top soil
All day for no pay, teeming with fearsome
Strange-talking, strange-dressing
Ghost-faces living in bigger
Strange huts—

The language of my ancestors was stolen

Mitsogo*—Stolen and discarded—

Replaced with one
Which I’m sure
Felt awkward rolling inside
West African mouths:

A language that says


*Mitsogo: Language of the Tsogo and Ateke tribes in Gabon.
Pronounced: “Me-show-go.”


Photo by Alex Simpson on Unsplash