How does it feel because it is 2 AM and I cannot sleep

By Rhea Côté Robbins

How does it feel to
have to 
Northern Maine
by myself, with one other,
plus a Native woman
in that particular 
I feel alone 
and then
not being from 
Northern Maine
I feel like
an outsider
and then I remember 
when I get home:
That was MY maman's language,
damn it.
I have a right to speak to that issue
if I am to free my maman's tongue
the tongue I heard spoken to me
all the years of my life
and you would tell me
You, from someplace else
with a language learned
outside of home
my maman spoke an 
artificial language?
because you claim
it is not even taught in schools...

I shake my head in disbelief.
I tell my husband the whole thing
...he shares the horror of
Still having to defend
a tongue
as it happened today.

He cannot believe that that is what I had to do
and today, in this day and age...

I feel like I've been shot.
Or, maybe run over by a truck.
Tired, really tired.

In my car, on the way home, I'm talking to myself
shaking my head in disbelief
cursing the geography, or rather those who dwell upon it...
in a geography that has hated its own
and it still does not make any sense to me.
That I had to say what I said
and I remember being told this
but it feels like it's the first time
I've HEARD this
for someone to tell me
that Northern Maine French
isn't real.

It was an ordinary day.
Doing ordinary work.
Volunteering like everyone else,
but no one else had their
brought into
question between
artificial and

much later, I think, what if I had not been there?
and how many times does this happen when someone isn't there?
who would have spoken to the myth
because it is myth
to say that 
Northern Maine French
"isn't a real language; it isn't even taught in schools."
Blank stare, now.
I think to myself
what the &^$+#? is that all about?
Who gains there?
Did that really happen?
In all the community work I see
around me
haven't they heard
that the taboo has been lifted
we are celebrating now
not shaming ourselves
you old bitch.
L'enfant chienne, maman would have told her.
I think about the price to pay for
especially like this
protest poem
recognized and authorized
talking down
at what she thinks
is still
beneath her...
because, she knows more like her 
from whence she comes.

One token
let in
the higher circles of influence
and look what I have to put up with
this insult
to me and my maman's memory
now that I think of it...
"...and they are not even literate in their own language." she continues.
another pipes up to say: "Yeah, and I was yelled at because I didn't call it Acadian French."
...and gauging at who they named, I think to myself
when did that happen, 30± years ago...and you still remember that?
...and I think to myself later on while taking the dog out 
long memory to remember when someone spoke loudly to defend their language
...look at the power when the unvoiced speaks...and insists on its name and naming to be equal.

"...and they are not even literate in their own language.  Many of them cannot even read their own language because they were brought up learning the French at home."
Exhibit A, I think, ladies and gentleman of the jury...

For a moment, it causes me to doubt
but mémère wrote both languages, maman too.
and then I can read French

but, I said, they speak it everyday to each other at home, everywhere...
The language is is only a case of regional accents.
And where is the crime in that?  I think

I think of my maman's letters home to mémère
mémère's letters to maman, all in French
maman taking dictation in French from mémère
am I to think this, all of this did not happen?
because it was 'home' french...

I feel stretched thin
but I can say what I said
I know Northern Maine, Acadian, St. John Valley French
maman's French
I know my maman
spoke for true.
And it is a delicate
breath I take
because another 
voice came from behind
breaking official rules
to speak 
in favor of the language.

And one more time the ax did not fall on the language tree.

Rhea Côté Robbins, author of Wednesday's Child


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