To The Mother Tongue
Mother tells me of a time when she was young:
1996 ESL class, Webster’s Dictionary faded
and yellowed with time, musty like the moss-
green suitcase tucked away in a laundry room in Oakland.
Her tongue, once coated in turmeric and pan-fried
with curry leaves, dipped in oregano-green chutney,
and sour like thick yogurt left on the deck too long,
now tumbles over itself: overgrown roots,
slippery with moss and mossy with age
and aged with the smoke pulling at the hairs
at the back of her neck, smoky thin like
her voice warbling as it travels through the plaster
walls of our kingdom, meekly authoritative,
bending to the will of washed out voices.
Mother tells me of a time when I was young:
2005 trip to India, my sharp tongue laden with language,
experienced with the sharp honks of the rickshaws
during the torrential days of monsoon season,
guided by the high-pitched hum of Grandfather’s oxygen
tank running through the night. Her words are wistful;
she tells me I have lost the mother tongue, my mother’s tongue.
Now it is just a joke, an irony, as my tongue navigates
the twists and angles, each accent misplaced, every nuance
a battle I cannot conquer.
We are all just pawns in a game of speed.
The victors are the fastest at locking their past
in the overhead compartment before disembarking,
the fastest at abandoning their mother in the dust
as they chase their dreams. I have won,
and my mother tongue has escaped me,
but it was warm, and it licked my mistakes
when I was young.
By Shaam Beed
Shaam is a student at Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey. His favorite subjects include American history and Chinese, and he finds himself often writing about his family, culture, and random subjects. He has not founded any foundations or published any books, but someday he hopes to become an adult.