All day my mother lives inside a language she does not
Belong in, gets lost in its hard ribs and
Cold vowels, its dusty noise, its angles full of
Distance. Each morning, she tries smoothing out her tongue.
Each morning, she apologizes to the grocery store cashier
For her accent. Escueeze me, she says. Imsorry. She wants to say: America
Gave me home, but zis home
Had a price. She wants to say: Imsorry for my teeth.
Imsorry 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 mispronounces silence. That she can belong
Only through closed teeth. With each year, she grows quieter.
Pale ice covers her rolling plains of rs. She cannot
Quell this country’s thirst. Back in
Russia, each voice was heavy as hers, no one
Swallowed their tongue. Here, each evening, she asks me
To spellcheck emails, see where she
Used past tense instead of present, misplaced a The, wrote
Vine for Wine. Each evening we sit in the kitchen and play
Word games. When I win, her eyes turn proud. 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.