Alternate universe in which my professor asks if anyone in the room can define the word codeswitching, and I do not wait for someone else to answer.
I say Well, it is a compound word, so..
A system of marking things with different colors
as a means of identification.
A device for making and breaking
connections in an electrical circuit.
To be Black in America is to keep a lightswitch under your tongue.
To be a circuitboard constantly flickering between multiple sets of syntax.
To convert a message in order to convey a secret meaning.
Example: when my white friends can’t make sense of the language I’m using
and I do not explain it to them.
When everyone who needs to understand me
already knows exactly what I said.
To swap one thing out for another
Like changing clothes –
Pull on my white girl voice to answer the phones at work.
Line my pockets with ain’t and finna and the habitual be.
A set of conventions governing behavior or activity in a particular sphere.
Example: the way that ain’t isn’t recognized in the Microsoft dictionary.
Example: the way that white people still out here pretending
it ain’t been a word for centuries.
To express meaning in an indirect or euphemistic way.
Example: when white people call me articulate.
But then I remember
A slender, flexible shoot cut from a tree
And I think my mouth must be a forest, like
I open my mouth to speak and a burst of leaves tumbles out.
A copse of saplings. An orchard of vernacular where my tongue should be..
I think maybe I was right the first time.
Maybe I am something neon and flickering,
child of bottled lightning and electrical tape.
Maybe my afro is just a tangle of wires.
I say Black girl magic three times
and watch all the light spill out of my mouth.
Maybe I am a glowing sentient lightbulb,
the brightest thing in the room
Bleeding white-hot fluorescence and waiting
Added: Thursday, October 6, 2022 / Used with permission
Arianna Monet (she/they) is a queer Black poet and strawberry ice cream enthusiast from eastern Massachusetts. Her work can be found in What Are Birds? Journal, FreezeRay Poetry, and elsewhere. Arianna is also a 2022 Zoeglossia Fellow, and was a member of the 2019 Boston Poetry Slam Team.
Image Description of Photo of Arianna Monet: Arianna Monet a dark-skinned Black femme in front of a grassy background. She is wearing a white dress and a necklace with deep blue stones. There is a marigold tucked into her dark curly hair which falls just to her shoulders.