CBC Literary Prizes·CBC Poetry Prize Finalist

From the Mouth by Rachel Lachmansingh

Rachel Lachmansingh has been shortlisted for the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize.

From the Mouth was written to connect with the poet's great-great-grandmother

Rachel Lachmansingh is a Guyanese Canadian writer from Toronto. (Sarah Lachmansing)

Victoria writer Rachel Lachmansingh has made the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for From the Mouth.

She will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and her work has been published on CBC Books.

The winner of the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize will be announced on Nov. 24. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and will attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

Lachmansingh is a Guyanese Canadian writer from Toronto. She's been published in Minola Review, Grain, the Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, The Puritan and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing her BA in creative writing at the University of Victoria. Lachmansingh was also longlisted for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize for The Window of a Stranger's House.

Lachmansingh wrote the poems in From the Mouth to connect with her great-great-grandmother, she told CBC Books.

My poems were a means to connect with my great-great-grandmother, an Arawak woman whose stories I've been told since I was a child.- Rachel Lachmansingh

"I'm the daughter of two Guyanese immigrants and have Arawak lineage on my mother's side. I'm a mixed-race person who was born in Canada, which means I sometimes struggle to feel directly connected to my ancestors," she said.

"My poems were a means to connect with my great-great-grandmother, an Arawak woman whose stories I've been told since I was a child. However, access to the language itself online is quite limited; my poems reflect what accepting that felt like at the time."

You can read From the Mouth below.


DEATH OF A LANGUAGE

Find a 
            casket 
something     modest —
            you know
only a handful 
            of people spoke
people's talk.
            Gather Arawak
from Grandma Platie's
                        mouth until
            you realize
                       she has
                                    no
            words to give.

                                  Scoop
                        the only nouns
Wikipedia provides you
            into a palm:
                      moon
                      sky
                      sun
                      heart
                      grandmother,
and don't
            ask
                      why they disappear
            in the lines.
Trade da-kythy
            for
                        my grandmother, a
            frail woman who
                        leans on her son
                        in one 
photograph
            and in another,
                        luminesces in
            the sun. There
                        is no word
            for luminesce
in Arawak
          that you
                      can
scavenge. Bury
                        a desire
          to learn
how your
            ancestors
                        said 
                                I love you.
Their language
            is dying
            and dying
                        means morphing
            asa into        hassar
without
            asking when new
letters appeared.
            When desperate,
                        wrap verbs 
            in snapped
                        cassava bread. Spit
                                                  it all out. Don't
                        grieve
            wasted 
                        food —
            remember
                        wasting is an action
            just as much as
                                    forgetting.


On the internet, my great great grandmother's language

yields         no great matches
in my search for     God.
            Google says:
try using words that might appear
            on the page. For example,
'cake recipes' instead of 'how to
make a cake'
. I search for 'prayer' 
                        'please'     'Arawak'
            enter. Two results
in (0.41 seconds) get me a did you mean
no.

In my poems, I make up rivers
my great great grandmother never visited. Maybe
she walked ankle-deep into ochre water
and washed her hair. Maybe
she floated on her back, the sun clipping
her face, and knew how to say its true
name. In my poems, I pretend
she lived in a home hemmed
by palm trees and ate mangos
to the seed. I did not know
her name until last
week.

From Google: the Arawak word
for                   armadillo.
I save it to my favourites, another vague
PDF I'll use in search of Platilda. I write
poetry hoping I'll sift her out of consonants. That one day
she'll meet my reflection in a clouded mirror
and mouth a language I can't hear,
and that she never spoke. That one day
I'll confirm iwa (noun) is the Arawak word for star
and also
            year. That one day I will no longer
think of my mouth with no sound
coming out.


Read the other finalists

About the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize

The winner of the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

The 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January. The 2023 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.

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