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Published: Mon Apr 15 2002
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.

I stuttered in Georgetown,
Guyana, in 1966, and was so ashamed
I did not speak even when spoken to,

until I heard one song that ran,
‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ a long
‘o’ in that second know converted

doubt to wonder itself, and continued,
‘Why they got people bad-minded so,’
repeating the couplet erased all doubt,

that independence year of overproof
rum and absolutes. The singer groaned
how his efforts only invited envy,

how ingrained failure made a stranger
of success, then he launched this boast:
‘I got the rhythm,’ three times no less,

adding his own made-up word—what a cheek—
‘tan-tantilism.’ That extra tan stretched,
creolised, ironed smooth my creased tongue.

Was I alone in the capitol in not joining
the country’s club of bad minds ranged
against singer and song after it stuck

all year in the charts? Everything about
1966, 600 feet below sea level,
drained from me, everything except

that little strain lodged in my skull
and always budding on my tongue.
It tea-teases, tau-taunts, tan-tantalises.

See what's inside AGNI 55

Poet and novelist Fred D’Aguiar directs the MFA Program at the University of Miami. His latest book is Bloodlines, a verse novel published by Overlook Press in 2001. (updated 2002)

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