Code-Switch—choosing your communication style based on the people you’re dealing with

Poetry, Vol 6: Iss 2

Elevator doors close, a swift swishing sound
leaving us alone,
together
in this confined space,
divided by an unseen awkwardness 
in the presence of two
rather than one
rather than many.

My doctor’s tie and satchel
your dreads and overalls,
my mixed-Asian race
your darker skin separate us
as surely as subway platforms on opposing tracks,
with hidden glass shards awaiting the unwary.

And yet, I stumble forward into this inviolable chasm,
(my grandmother’s enveloping bosom
drawing me into the warmth and succor of soft comforting words)
asking, in her Texan drawl,“What y’all doin here?”
Your response
to look back incredulously,
your eyes focused on mine
perhaps, wondering of my intent,
no friend seen across this divide
only “Other.”

Seeking understanding,
I attempt to rescue the fallen casualty below
with proper English in a neutral tone,
“I’ve seen a lot of work going on”
your reply, “A lot of things,”
an abrupt departure ensues
as elevator doors open briskly
into the parking garage 
leaving me alone.

“A lot of things” echoes through my days
as an irritating chirp of self-doubt
creeping into awareness of bias and privilege
and missed connection.

Discomfort morphs into the shame 
of assumptions made and shattered,
of my odd birth-right rejected 
knowing now
that into this realm of the familiar 
I may not enter
uninvited.

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