There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.
Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
… So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana –
truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.
About the Poet
Zaffar Kunial published a pamphlet in the Faber New Poets series in 2014 and was Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust the same year. In 2011 he won third prize in the National Poetry Competition with ‘Hill Speak’. With Steve Ely, Denise Riley and Warsan Shire, he contributed to The Pity, a series of new poems commissioned and published by the Poetry Society as a response to the centenary of the First World War. The Pity commissions were premiered live at Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, on 2 October, National Poetry Day, 2014, accompanied by background visuals by Robert Peake. The poems are now available as a book, available from The Poetry Society online shop