We Speak to the Fish in our National Language | 我们对着鱼缸说国语

By and | 31 October 2020

Facing the fish bowl, I speak the national language1:
each vowel, a gust upon glass;
each accent, a mosquito’s unsteady dance.

From my watch’s face, each second, turbulent, rises like smoke.

The English of the 50’s was but a colonial tongue.
Thinking of our national language, we’d speak Malay.
But by 1965, what was it? English? Malay? Both?

Smoke clouds roll and swallow the map.
Where can we hope to live in peace?

The Federation. Straits Settlements. Malaya. Malaysia.
Taiwan. The Republic of China.
Temasek. Singapura. Singapore.
Please, repeat after me.
This is my home country – Home. Country.
You have your own national language, as do I.
Our tongues roam free – they are by no means bound.

We sit about a round table, practicing the national language.
The fish, in their round bowl, pout the way all goldfish do.

They are like the snakes in our mouths, these writhing tongues.

Occasionally, our lips, too, are round –
when they are
they are fishes they are languages they are Bahasa Melayu they are Ü;
when they are not
they are ikan2 they are English they are Inilah Singapura3.

  1. ‘National Language’ may refer to Mandarin, or simply the national language of a country.
  2. Ikan (Malay): Fish
  3. Inilah Singapura (Malay): (lit.) “This is Singapore.”
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