What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open – Muriel Rukeyser

We learned English faster than our parents, their tongues too old to take a new shape. Our tongues still coated in milk, this meant we didn’t pray like they did, and God didn’t answer when we called. English teachers tskedtskedtsked when our words lost letters: when ending became endin became the end. English was a world we rebuilt with our small hands. I was a girl, small and dark skinned. Nothing belonged to me except what came out of this mouth of mine.

When my cousin put his _______ in my _______ or when my uncle _______ed me in the living room of my own home and the strange man grabbed my _______ last summer on the train I wanted to say stop but didn’t know what language to say it in.

In Somalia we speak Somali, in America we speak English, or sometimes we speak nothing at all. All the women I know speak in whispers. When I try and tell some stories language turns to iron, heavy and rusting in the back of my throat. I bite my tongue and taste blood.

Silence was my first language. I am fluent in its cadences. I know the way quiet can pour out of a mouth like a rush of water in a season of drought.

Jamila Osman is a Somali writer, educator, and organizer living in Portland, Oregon. She teaches high school English and facilitates poetry workshops for marginalized youth, including currently incarcerated and immigrant and refugee youth. Her writing explores the tension between place, history, and identity. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, Catapult, The Establishment, Boaat, Diagram, and other places.She is a VONA/Voices of Our Nation workshop alum.

Artwork by John Gallaher