“They don’t teach English,” she declares
hovering above the glass cabinet like an unheard
exclamation mark. “They teach literature
but not how to read or speak. Grammar.”
She lectures openly to the mumbling masses
in the exhibition in the British Library
about the Magna Carta, the Great Charter.
“I mean the good schools. Not low class. Good.
They can’t read it. They can’t!” The it is the
Declaration of Independence, the Jefferson copy,
there to show influences through the centuries.
“Uhuh,” mutter two fellow American tourists
in go-away embarrassed agreement, heads
down, trying to read. “They come to America,
those immigrants. Can’t speak any English!
So how can they read this?!” The aging
Punctuation speaks louder, talking
over her own history: immigrant ancestors
spilt from Europe’s overflowing cup,
older voices, a thousand befores, stepping
back together to an African origin. Her trapped
students laugh a little, hoping for the bell to ring.
“If it was up to me – handwriting and grammar.
Just like this.” She stabs full stops on the glass
with the urgency of King John’s barons.
Her views a mild poison in our ears.
Earlier she had regaled the beauties
of Pennsylvania, apologised for obstructing
the view (but not moving). Now she finishes
with a few mumbles, shuffling out
of the Library, into London, that soup
of stirred languages and evolving English,
her footsteps leaving no fossils.
Matthew James Friday is a professional writer and graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmith College, London. He has had poems accepted for publication in the following magazines and literary journals: A Handful of Stones, Bolts of Silk, Cadenza, Carillon, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Earth Love, Erbacce, Envoi, Finger Dance Festival, Gloom Cupboard, IS&T (Ink, Sweat & Tears), The New Writer, Third Wednesday, Of Nepalese Clay, Pens on Fire, Pulsar Poetry, Red Ink, South and Writing Magazine.