In English lessons at school
it was dictations that scared me most
because I would mix up meet and meat,
ship and sheep, chick and cheek.
I would write
The ship eats green grass.
The big sheep goes to sea at dawn.
I like this fried meet.
Grandma’s cheeks are yellow and funny.
If a native speaker hears you,
one of the teachers told us,
if a native speaker hears you,
they’ll find it painful, and you’ll be embarrassed.
My English has grown a bit since then,
but it is still hamstrung and stunted.
On an island in the middle of the ocean
My clumsy English and I
chatted once with a hostel mate, a Chinese woman.
She told me she had traveled by bus
through Texas, Louisiana, and Florida,
but then in Florida, in Miami,
homesickness had caught up with her,
because she did not find a Chinatown there.
Her story was exactly the same as mine.
I had traveled the same route,
and for some reason it was in Miami,
a city of dancing in the streets, beaches, cocktails, happiness, and sunshine,
where I’d also felt like going home
to the dirty gloom of Moscow in November.
But earlier, on the outskirts of Orlando,
my poor English and I
told a homeless guy,
sitting on the sidewalk in a bad neighborhood,
that my country
had, a year earlier, attacked its neighbor
and taken away the island of Cream
(I still don’t remember the word for “semi-island.”)
People always thinking up some shit, he nodded,
towards a better neighborhood.
My lopsided English and I
bought a summer dress
(baby, why do you hide your figure),
looked for a laundromat
(I had to wash my clothes),
explained the rules of a board game
(and then these guys die and go home the same way).
Language wasn’t the problem, it turned out.
I, a native speaker of Russian,
hear native speakers of Russian,
and all the words are muddled.
But my clumsy Russian and I
don’t despair — we memorize words
and phrases that come in handy in conversation.
If someone slaps you,
turn the other chick.
Pleased to meat you.
Source: Dana Sideros, Facebook, 26 June 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Dana Sideros is a Russian playwright and poet, currently living in Portugal. The photo of her, above, is by Slava Kovalevich.