Mother Tongue

Mother Tongue

By Mary Kay Rummel

But without you who am I?  Milosz

All I knew those early years
was the sheer enchantment of calling

human, animal and earth-born things
bodily into being—bracelets of sound

clasped together—hungry
brought bread or milk, stopped

the grind in my belly, didn’t know then
hungry named pain itself.

Birds, fragments of sky, voices raining
down on me, opened my eyes at sunrise—

nincompoop, fat puff of smoke
made me giggle.

My first true word— forgotten now—
claimed me and I was possessed

slowly betraying your limits
as I struggled to speak of fleeting, stubborn

moody things, constantly misunderstood.
Bright words wake me every day now.

I still want to serve you, mother, shamed
by arrogance, a history of force, linqua franca

of commerce, science, warfare—
can any tongue escape the crimes

of those who speak it?  But without you
who am I? Surrounded by fears and humiliations

I still choose you, my rough necklace, heirloom
of syllables reflecting this infinite world—

blackbirds and wounds and starlight
branches and dust-grains.

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