Photo by elCarito on Unsplash

The Dream of a Mother Tongue

I grew up inside of a language and carved it into a home. When I go back to visit it is boarded up and the door is locked shut. I feel some relief. I’m afraid I would not know my way around the rooms if I were to walk inside. I grew up inside of a poem and then I wandered out and lost the music of it. In Arabic the words are shaped the exact way you are meant to feel them. The word “hold” wraps itself around you tight, round and warm (dumm). Arabic says has a special way of saying “you two”, its own gentle way of teasing lovers. Its words could wrap around that first glass of fresh water on a hot day and hold their shape, hold whatever feelings rush to my heart as it makes its way down my throat.

I grew up inside of a language whose olive trees and fields I no longer know. That’s what I get for calling a poem home. For calling a place home when it has never felt warm, and I have never known my way around it very well.

Arabic is a mother tongue in the way that I have walked away from it and keep looking back and yearning for some of its warmth. It is a mother because in loving it I am also walking away. I am still letting go.

I am writing to you in this stranger language because I am still in hiding. I am writing to you and it’s not like spitting on my mother tongue but it is like lying. It is a lie. I am writing to you from inside of this body and I can hear my soul coming in waves through the window and when it comes it has no language. My chest fills like it couldn’t take anymore gladness and I wish I could make music out of that. I wish I could make a new poem out of it. I have been writing the same poem over and over again for years.

I sit for hours trying to recall a strange bedtime story from my childhood: the one with the hedgehog eating watermelon. The wolf tries to do the same and ends up getting stuck inside the farm because it has grown too fat. Maybe it wasn’t a hedgehog. Maybe it wasn’t watermelon. I sit and think as I rarely do of that Marcel Khalife song “I long for my mother’s bread/And my mother’s coffee/And my mother’s touch…” , how his voice barely touches the word “long” (ahn). I think this and am still standing outside the boarded-up house and it is flooded and its walls look like they have been crying for years.

The music fades away, the light dims. When the night falls it cools my chest and a humming starts. It is another song where my mouth shapes the words all wrong but this time the light holds me close. My new eyes are meeting it as if it were also new. Light rests its hands against my shoulder. More of it is pressing itself against the window panes and asking to be let in.

When the song quiets I sit at my kitchen table. A litany: I kiss the yellow roses and I kiss my knees I kiss my roses and I kiss my knees I kiss my roses and I kiss my knees… I think it again, in Arabic: Buss, mouth pushed into a heart shape. An offering.

soft scrambled words

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