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Sheryl St. Germain.
“Getting Rid Of The Accent.”

© Sheryl St. Germain.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.

I thought I had gotten rid of it after I moved to Texas; speech classes and twelve years in another state — but I’d still fall back into it like into the gutter whenever I visited, even on the phone, whenever my mother called, forgetting I was a college graduate, forgetting I was an English major, saying things like wheah ya at sweethawt, or dat doan mean nuttn, ya awta seen da way she pawks dat caw, the sounds I was fed like milk as a child, the aw sound predominating as if it was just too much work to pronounce the r.
I tried hard to get rid of it, to make my voice sound as if I had nothing to do with the black smell of the Lake, nothing to do with my mother’s beans and rice, nothing to do with my father’s breath, my brother’s track marks.
Once, after listening to me speak, a friend snickered, “I can tell you’re from New Orleans by the way you say room and leg.” I couldn’t hear it at first, couldn’t hear that I was saying rum for room, and layg for leg. It was the hardest part of getting rid of the accent, rum still sounds more right than room, gets the job done quicker, with less effort. Leg was hard too because layg was in me like blood. It was a word my mother used a lot, get your laygs off there, Sheryl, close your laygs, Sheryl, wash out the tub when you shave your laygs, Sheryl, but I practiced and practiced it, the short e of leg and the long o of room, squinching my mouth into the unnatural positions, working my way from the voice of my father, the blood of my brother.
I was not going to sink as my mother had, lower and lower into this spongy land, I would not have my words sound like the drunken streets, the ditch-water that runs by our house still, infectious, addictive,
when I sing of this place I love unreasonably more than life itself, I want the words to rise strong and true, separate.

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St. Germain, Sheryl. “Getting Rid Of The Accent.” Let It Be a Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems. Pittsburgh, Penn.: Autumn House, 2007. Print. © Sheryl St. Germain. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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