It was language they used to exclude us.
We called her grandma, but we called Tio
and Tia, tío and tía, this my children know.
Children, never niños but sometimes les enfants or
very rarely ces mauvais enfants.
Questions of where I was born
are always fraught.
I could say (with one hundred percent veracity)
the same place as late U.S. senator John Sidney McCain III.
You get one picture with that answer and another
if I say Panama even though both are true.
A mortgage specialists asks me, in her list of questions,
and as a Canadian I'm annoyed by the relevance.
Later, when she says, in heavy Québécois accent,
it must be hard being so far from your family,
I'm confused. New York is close to Tia and Tio,
grade schools, high school, university,
the cemetery of my past, then I remember
the question. Panamanians also burn bittersweet.
Without the tongue, I feel the fraud. I have the food,
the dance, the corazon, the fuego, pero no el idioma.
It was what they spoke to keep their fate from us
—keeping us from ourselves.