If they ask me why I don’t write in my mother tongue.
I won’t know what to tell them. Or how
My mother’s tongue is foreign
To me; I could never learn
All its words or understand what some of them mean.
How will I tell them I accept enough words in
My mother tongue to make a poem rhyme for
I couldn’t learn its derision for difference.
How will I tell them that my mother tongue covers and shields;
Parts of me that I can’t bother to hide; Parts, I
Tore apart and flung aside
Years ago. I learnt loneliness
Like one learns a foreign tongue
In a foreign land. Forcefully.
With-out choice, struggling
To come to terms with it,
Playing games with one’s self, practicing
The art of hiding fear
Of ridicule until
Silence became a person who held
Both my hands and turned me into a secret.
How will I tell them that the gasps
In my mother tongue are not consent, coyness or even defeat,
But a pause.
Because I don’t believe in the words out of my mouth.
How will I tell them that my mother
Tongue does not allow mothers
To be angry, and
When my mother is angry, she mumbles:
In unheard of languages.
How will I tell them that my mother’s tongue is cut from her mouth and stored
Under the heel of fathers and forefathers.
First hers, then mine.
They speak gratuitously for the universal kind of mothers dutifully
Shutting them up in cages exacting servitude
In the name of sacrifice.
How will I tell them that my mother’s tongue is often cut from my mother’s mouth until
All you can hear are her screams.
And when my mother is angry, she mumbles:
Synonyms and verb forms of dying.
So, all I know, about speaking in her tongue
Sounds like blood and tastes like defeat.
How do I tell them that I’d be deaf and dumb,
Yet only scream, if I spoke in my mother tongue.
Hardeep Kaur is a poet who tells stories that, sometimes, rhyme. She loves languages and believes that cussing in a language is the only way to own it.