Transnationalism and Development

Originally by Carol Ann Duffy

“We came from our own country in a red room

which fell through the fields, our mother singing

our father’s name to the turn of the wheels.

My brothers cried, one of them bawling, Home,

Home, as the miles rushed back to the city,

the street, the house, the vacant rooms

where we didn’t live any more. I stared

at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.

All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,

leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue

where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.

Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,

leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys

eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.

My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth

in my head. I want our own country, I said.

But then you forget, or don’t recall, or change,

and, seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only

a skelf of shame. I remember my tongue

shedding its skin like a snake, my voice

in the classroom sounding just like the rest. Do I only think

I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of first space

and the right place? Now, Where do you come from?

strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.”

This poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the current poet laureate of the United Kingdoms, evoke the experience of transnationalism, as she does in other poems talking about the United Kingdom (for example, “Translating the British”). Even though this is unsure, the poem could be somewhat autobiographic because Duffy left Scotland for England with her family when she was six years old by train (“in a red room/which fell through the fields”). My appeal in this poem is the sense of evolution experienced by a child crossing national borders, the development that the diaspora imposes on them, making them lose their accent as though one’s “tongue [is] shedding its skin like a snake”. The themes of development and childhood/teens have been explored in readings like We Need New Names and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; the poem becomes another narrative of rootlessness and confusion that is caused by a move. Yet, the speaker says that “all childhood is an emigration”, implying that childhood in itself is a transnational space/time in which the fragmentation and movement of multiple elements of personhood can happen. In this poem, the sense of loss is accompanied with shame. As with Yunior who cannot fit into Dominican Republic ideals of manhood, the speaker seems to be unable to recall home, calling it as an invocation: “Home,/Home“. The speaker is taken away from what it perceives as his or her country, yet feels so estranged from it by the time he or she is older that he or she cannot answer a simple question like “Where do you come from?”. This sort of poem speaks of transnationalism in that it explores identity and how it is affected by diaspora. Here, the speaker is unable to pick and use one pronoun, but must be using both “I” and “you”, which represents well how he or she becomes confused as to his or her identity, such that physical characteristics (e.g. skin and tongue) change as well, shifting in the emigration. Thus, identity and transnationalism go hand in hand in nations that are highly affected by globalization.


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