By Daniel Blokh
All day my mother lives inside a language she does not
Belong in. It loses her in its hard ribs and
Cold vowels, its dusty noise, its angles full with
Distance. Each morning, she tries to smooth out her tongue.
Each morning, she goes to the grocery store, apologizing to the cashier
For her accent. Escueeze me, she says. Amsorry. She wants to say: America
Gave me home, but zis home
Had a price. She wants to say: I am sorry for my teeth.
I am sorry that I could not make zis language mine, zis
Jagged tongue. My mother’s mouth was made for vowels
Knit from spice, sweat, sun. My mother carries
Languages that could melt snow, wake
Mountains from their cold white sleep. But my mother knows
No one can mispronounce silence. That she can belong
Only through closed teeth. With each year, she grows quieter.
Pale snow covers the rolling mountains of her rs. She cannot
Quell this country’s thirst. Back in
Russia, every voice was heavy as hers, and no one
Swallowed their tongue. But here, each evening, my mother asks me
To spellcheck her emails, to see where she
Used past tense instead of present, misplaced a The, wrote
Vine for Wine. Each evening, the two of us sit in the kitchen and play
Word games. When I win, she hugs me tight, eyes full of pride. Danya,
Xenni etot yazik, she tells me. Learn it vell.
You don’t vant be like me. She wants to say:
Zis language vaz never mine, but maybe it can be yours.