Bilingual


my friend said he ate his chicken marinated
in garlic and vinegar.
I wanted to say saha, but couldn’t,
my tongue tied, my hands on the keyboards stuck.
bon appétit works, but that is in French.
he is American and I
get confused if bon appétit is said before
or after a meal.
saha is said after,
like salamtak is said to a boy who is sick.
but my friend is getting sick and I can’t express my worries
except with an apology.
sorry you are sick, I say in my second language, his first and only one.

but when my Palestinian friend calls me and he complains about his wife,
I smile because the words I can use are endless.
naeeman I say when my best friend shows me pictures of her new haircut,
or I talk to my mother who just left the shower.
when baba comes home, mama says, yaeteek il afya,
and when I see a worker at the office I say the same thing.
but in English I’m tongue tied,
and I have to say good afternoon or have a good night,
but I want to say yaeteek il afya,
as in may God give you more strength,
as in I appreciate what you are doing.
but in English it sounds flat,
no emotion. just simple words written and read.

yet when it comes to Arabic love words, I am silenced.
bahibak is too much to handle.
I like you sounds better to a friend and a potential lover.
I miss you sounds less commitment-filled than ishtaqtilak
and poetry read in Arabic reads heavier on my heart,
and words written in English sound easier on my tongue.

and that is what I tell myself day and night.
you are bilingual.
things are meant to get confused,
and you are meant to sometimes choose a language
that suits a situation best.

and so I live my life thinking in English,
feeling in Arabic,
writing in English and listening in Arabic.
and I dream in both.
I love in both.
I fear in both, and as the sun sets every night,
I thank the God that made me bilingual.