Originally

We came from our own country in a red room
which fell through the fields,
our mother singing our father’s name
to the turn of the wheels.
My brothers cried, one of them bawling,
Home, Home, as the miles rushed back to the city,
the street, the house, the vacant rooms
where we didn’t live any more.

I stared at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.
All childhood is an emigration.
Some are slow, leaving you standing,
resigned, up an avenue where no one you know stays.
Others are sudden. Your accent wrong.
Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates,
big boys eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.

My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth in my head.
I want our own country, I said.
But then you forget, or don’t recall,
or change, and, seeing your brother swallow a slug,
feel only a skelf of shame.
I remember my tongue shedding its skin like a snake,
my voice in the classroom sounding just like the rest.
Do I only think I lost a river, culture, speech,
sense of first space and the right place?
Now, Where do you come from? strangers ask.
Originally? And I hesitate.

Carol Ann Duffy

Poet Laureate

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