I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.
You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.
Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.
So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me.
- What does this poem mean by “talk”?
- Rita Joe was a Mi’kmaq poet from Cape Breton, but with the exception of one specific reference to “Shubenacadie school,” the poem is very general, and could be applied to any number of peoples whose “talk” has been taken away from them. What’s the effect of that one moment of specificity in a poem that stays very general?
- At the end of the third stanza, the speaker admits “Your way is more powerful.” What might “power” mean in this poem? Who is the “you” she is talking to? Does it include you? In what way is your way more powerful?
Two pathways for a writing exercise:
- If you, or someone in your class, knows another language, try translating the poem. How does this new translation help you to understand what the poem expresses about language? Can you try to imitate the alliteration of “scrambled ballad”?
- If you don’t speak another language, imagine what it would be like to have English taken from you. How would you order lunch? How would you explain to a doctor about a stomachache? Tell your children about their family? Express your own feelings? Write about what that might feel like.
- Your recitation of this poem will change dramatically depending on how you think the poem feels about “you.” Try it once from a place of anger, so that “you” is a hateful adversary. Try it again from a place of fear, as if the “you” is a threatening force. And then once more from a place of reconciliation, so that “you” is someone you might want to befriend. Is there a way to incorporate all three of these responses in your recitation?
- A biography of Rita Joe in the Canadian Encyclopedia, with links to other resources about her: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rita-joe
- Here’s an article about some of the abuses that took place at the Shubenacadie Residential School: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/abuse-residential-schools-nuns-survivors-native-children-1.4171588
Rita Joe, “I Lost My Talk,” from Song of Eskasoni. Copyright © 2007 by the Estate of Rita Joe. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Rita Joe.
Source: The Blind Man’s Eyes (Breton Books, 2015)