Wednesday, November 22

Mother Tongue

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My hand is rolled tight,
pressed cold on a glass of Irish whiskey.
I have just compared Debussy to Coltrane
and my Indian mother has left me
four missed calls to apologise for immediately.

The sun has sunk into a bed of darkness
like a balloon releasing its breath,
hoping the air will take back
what was stolen from it with grace.

I turn and walk inside,
pass walls uncoloured by airborne spice fragments
or paint specks where Holi slipped
too zealously from the hand,
each vent unclogged by sandalwood.
All this excessive lighting in a house
which perhaps never saw darkness as brightly as we did.
Those black nights spent in paralysis
when the neighbour screamed
for us to go back to our country.

Once was enough –
Our fights happened in silence after that.

I scatter the English in my voice,
chase it down with drink,
like burning down a landmark

cough up my mother tongue
in a warm, fiery rush.

My accent wonders
through her ears, awkward as any tourist,
tongue rolling limp in the face
of strong ‘t’ sounds and heavy ‘r’s.
unable to push the boulders
and cornerstones of my language
into her ear with any conviction.

Eventually I give up
and say, “Ma, I’m safe. I’ll be home soon.”
She hangs up with a sigh
that I have come to learn is her strongest asset.

My body now turned ice at the cliff face,
breathing the brittle air,

lips sunk into skin,
blue as a kingfisher’s wing,
the bird still asleep on my tongue.

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