Home > Poetry > Course in General Linguistics
Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Course in General Linguistics

If I’m going to be attacked, let it be by a rare pathogen

not some yokel hurling
sand nigger at me

from a beat-up Cutlass Sierra at seven a.m.

If I’m going to be attacked,
let it be by asteroid or metastasis

not the toothless yahoo of my expectations.

What I can’t understand is
who has the energy to be a xenophobe at seven in the morning.

Not me anyway, though I have energy enough to think of language.

Thud meant the saying
of sand nigger, so a sign is more than a signifier

with its tongue neatly stuck
in the ear of the signified.

It sometimes slobbers around some.

Anyway, I don’t mind being attacked,
just let it be by precision guidance

or satellite track, a line item in the budget

instead of dead language. Sand nigger,

he hollered, hoping for a rim shot maybe,
or maybe meaning, Go back where you came from.

How could I explain I had nowhere to go,
no other way to get where I was going,

and I hadn’t meant to sully his morning
and hadn’t meant to make him uncomfortable,

but if he thought he was uncomfortable,
I mean the guy howled

Sand nigger! at me,
and there were people around.

I was so embarrassed for them
looking so uncertainly to me and what I might do,

so I set about explaining
how he’d gotten the country of origin wrong,

how my folks are from green fields
and there isn’t any sand there,

and I’m from Chicago,
and sure I’m brown, but I’m harmless.

I mean, I don’t even believe in God.

Then I thought of all the people he meant
when he offered, Sand nigger,

and thought of all the people
he might’ve hoisted sand nigger upon

just that morning even, and how even now
he’s probably somewhere in his Cutlass Sierra

shouting, Sand nigger! Sand nigger!

at over-baked socialites strolling out of tanning salons,
squinting into the sun,

and how all us sand niggers are in this together.

Anyway, he shouted sand nigger,
and the others I told this to all agreed

it was just disgusting the way he shouted that at me,

so the signifier disgusting signified that

which signified sand nigger
which had meant disgusting all along,

but I could barely blame him,

all that concrete and glass
having fallen out of blue September,

the god-awful, sand-nigger sky,

how it was his sky, and I wanted then to embrace him

and murmur, I understand,
or, I’m sorry,

or maybe, I want to stab you in the heart,_   _

meaning, How easy it is to wound,

how much easier to be the wounded.

Jaswinder Bolina is the author of Carrier Wave, winner of the 2006 Colorado Prize for Poetry. His recent work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Black Warrior Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. (updated 6/2010)

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