My Father’s South-Asian Canadian Dictionary

Also appears in Traumatology, published by Exile Editions


Please note: This poem was originally published in print, and we've preserved the original layout. On larger screens, the first line may cut off the closing bracket; to see it, simply drag the text area in the desired direction.

includes the names of Canadian prime ministers and MPPs.

(We are from a government town, a government attitude on ice.)


I know what it means to lodge a complaint, submit a form,

participate in the census, just as I know that being Canadian


is the greatest pride on earth. My poetry comes out of

my father’s chest, tough and wholehearted, half-paralyzed


but brave. We believe in pronunciation, adjudication and

all for the nation. We believe in universal health care,


teddy bears and all-you-can-eat buffets. In my father’s

knuckles are the bare bones of a family he practically invented.


What does it mean to be an Uppal? It means diligence,

excellence. It means humility and finding your own ways


in and out. Before me, it meant business school, medicine,

looking carefully and effectively at all financial options.


It meant buying insurance and thinking about the future,

and marrying into a stable family with moral values.


Institutional language is ours: hypotheses, liabilities,

rent or lease. Yet, hockey too: boarding, hooking,


right wing, top of the cage. I know little Punjabi, and we

always eat far more chicken à la king than curry, and


cheer loud for Queen Elizabeth and the Pope, but

my brother and I can both mimic a South-Asian accent


when we say: Mahatma Ghandi, River Gange or

You are such a smarty pants. In my father’s eyes, we


are ragamuffins, gallivanting around the neighbourhood,

while others are clowns, or con-men, with sweetheart deals.


And when we come home to visit, he says, please and

thank you. And when he’s lying scared in hospital beds


we say our dad, a quadriplegic, who knows what it

means to be alive, fellow citizens, more than anyone.

View Priscila Uppal’s author profile.

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