Abecedarian for the English Language

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.


This poem is about: 
My family


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