This Lack of Words (This Daughter’s Tongue)


There are things unspoken between us.

This lack of words becomes a gap
becomes a black hole of
language, becomes a complicated kind of
rage that gets deposited in the backrooms of our
brains and the cavities of our hearts.

This daughter’s tongue tries to find the words but they stick
in her teeth like bits of meat
and she hasn’t got a toothpick.
She tries to find the words but they fall from her lips
like grains of rice
and she’s not sure how to unfold this language of the gut
with her language of the brain.

This daughter’s tongue gets stuck
on the tones of this sing-song language,
this language of puns and wordplay, of homonyms and homophones, of
synonyms, proverbs, ancient poems, and double and triple entendres
that she’ll never ever get
because it takes a lifetime of living wrapped
in its context, and syntax and rhythm,
in its teahouses, markets and temples
to know it
in throat and stomach and bones.

This daughter’s tongue does not speak
her mother’s mother tongue,
or her father’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother tongue.
Not really. She
has tried, tries, is trying, will try.
Why? Why try to speak a language not required in day-to-day life?
A language with no power, no future, no hype?

Because she needs to be able to taste
the food that makes her heart and stomach fly.
Because she needs to know what the old books
teach and the poets speak and the revolutionaries preached.
She needs to know the names of rivers and mountains and cities
that she may never see. She wants to know
what the grandfathers laugh about under the trees and
the grandmothers yell from their balconies.

So, she goes looking for this language.
She looks in rice-cooker kitchens
in railroad ties and shipping yards
in the side-streets of nation
and alleyways of empire.

She looks for it in the throats of colonies, the colonized, and the colonizers.
In the backroads, the countrysides, the islands and the coastlines.

She looks in all those places where we grew up speaking
differently, in the hearts of us who come seeking
languages that we think we ought to speak
as if these languages will fix a crack in a tongue
a gap in a lung
a shortage of spirit
a crooked tooth, a split lip
as if
these language will tune our hearts
and sync us to some universal rhythm that’s been playing all this time
(all we had to was un-mute the volume and we wouldn’t have been dancing on the off beat).

But after all this lacking and looking, she comes to see
that this language is not inherited, it’s not inherent.
It has to be learned. It’s not a talisman, nor a trinket or a party trick.
Not some chip you can stick in your brains and just press play.
There is no quick way.
It has to be learned.

She comes to see that maybe it’s not about this language alone.
Maybe this language won’t fix anything
until borders and bloodlines become irrelevant.
Until we stop saying what we are not, and what we cannot
and start saying what we are
what we can
and what we will.

Because maybe it’s about learning
to speak with the tongue and from
the heart, which takes starting
from somewhere
that’s so hard to get to, but feels so familiar.

Learning to speak
is like learning to eat.
It takes tuning taste buds to different frequencies,
rolling vowels like melon seeds
from the backs of our mouths, out over our teeth
to send them flying out into the world.
It takes courage, see,
because like anything else, this
language is learned,
and nothing is inherent
and our survival depends on learning to speak with our tongues and from our hearts, and maybe if
we speak, our stories will be the stop gaps
in the black holes
left by what’s unspoken between us.
So that,
instead of wandering under this open sky
with no roadmap to orient by
as though we’re always arriving for the first time,

these stories will give us our bearings.


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