Today I am revising the formal “you”,
in a land where strangers are always chaperoned
by the third person,
where subject and object are clearly marked and gender changes
For centuries, the passive voice of Europe,
muted by invasion, occupation.
The tyrants treated them like dogs,
whipped their children for speaking Polish in the schools,
forced them to bark in German, whine in Russian.
At night, in their kennels, tails between their legs,
they gnawed on the bones of their language:
Acting as a collective noun, they agreed
they’d not forget the name of any person, place or thing,
they’d predicate rebellion on syntactic lines,
make every verb a “doing” word.
Too frail to take up arms, too proud to flee,
they challenged their oppressors in the only way they could:
they stuck their tongue out at them.
That’s why their speech is olde worlde, starched, correct,
a tablecloth that grandma folded, put away and kept for best.
While other nations slouch in denim, have dropped inflections
like a hamburger wrapper in the street,
their language still conjugates and declines
with the couples ballroom dancing in the nightclubs,
moustachioed young men who bend at the waist to kiss your hand,
purple-haired ladies patronising
selling nothing but lace curtains.
Melanie Branton lives in North Somerset and has had poems published in print and online journals including Amaryllis, Clear Poetry, Obsessed With Pipework, Prole and The Interpreter’s House. She was also the 2015 Bristol regional Hammer and Tongue slam champion. Her forthcoming first collection will be published by Oversteps Books.