love on my mother's tongue, 1983


Art by Tina Lin

māmā will tell me about her sweet

potatoes, & laugh. she’ll tell me about how they’d

chew the fields to the bone, matchstick-

woven feet tripping wilder fires across the

wood. she’ll tell me about how they

scooped up the earth, made a home

in its belly, left the crops to sleep

beneath heaps of hot ash, to eat later


& māmā will wring those three syllables

until they are dry, let the pulp sink right back

into her throat, collect them like

empty air in a crate, feel their heaviness

like a welt. she’ll watch me try to

peel off their husks, though i’ll fail because

her tongue is shaped less like screenplay,

more like smouldered gingko, swollen sky


& māmā will make me hungry for

something that i can’t sink my teeth into, like

the secrets harboured in lost homeland dirt.

well, love on my mother’s tongue tastes just

like them: a buried thing, but never not

plump, ripe, sweeter than our teeth can take

& here there is no need for unearthing.

no need for words

at all.


#poetry #homeland #family #china

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