WHAT LANGUAGE CAN BREAK
by aurora masum-javed
Listen—a thought rattles off, disappears
like a stray coin, a bobby pin behind the dresser, a word
like a sheet—I can’t remember
the book I came looking for, & every time I talk
to my mother, she’s lost something new, memory
against throatskull, mouthdoor, headscape—she used to trip
against English this way, eh for every misplaced noun—
melon stop sign telephone—
she find it—object
hardened into syllable—I demanded
she cross the bridge
as I lounged on the other side—American
terror. Articulate your desire,
I didn’t say.
& now she can’t.
At five, I refused my first eloquence. No one talks like you.
Who would I be if my mouth could stand expansion?
What girl in her might I know?
What woman in myself?
Oh, what English cannot bear
In Bangla, I still confuse bhasha for basha. Language
for home. Where is my language?
When is my home?
Kalke—yesterday & tomorrow. Time,
a wounded wandering. What praxis
do we have to remember our future? Where have we exiled
our past? Are we not collateral’s present? Kalke—
lineage, descendant, circular
Ammu—endearment—for mother, for mother, for child—mother
who is child who is mother—there were months she wouldn’t speak
to me—voicemails sour, curt—This is Masuma…
but what is missing—
& others where everything she said—
anvil, gravel in my lungs—Your friends don’t love you.
They never have.
That never happened.
You remember what you want.
You’re a follower. A sheep.
Not ours. I cowered
into a shell, bent
like a lie, like the loosening strands
in us—I search now
for words—pulling teeth
from abdomen, calf, kidney—
what language can break—diaspora daughter daughter no—
I am illiterate
in my mother’s tongue, even the alphabet’s incantation—
foreign. Ammu, how do you say [ ]?
How do you say [ ]?
[I wish I hadn’t
I wish I’d been
I wipe my sleeve against the glass. Try to see
what she sees, try to speak, to speak, to speak—
there are galaxies between us
we cannot claim. The mind she’s losing—love—
a polyphonic myth—how alone we feel
beside each other, how small,
& disappeared. Ma, tell me—
how do you translate the longing
we have no name?
AURORA MASUM-JAVED is a poet, educator, and writing coach. A former public school teacher, she holds an MA in Education from George Mason University and an MFA from Cornell University, where she also taught courses in creative non-fiction, short story, poetry, and composition. Her work can be found in various journals including Nimrod, Black Warrior Review, Aster(ix), Winter Tangerine, Frontier, Jaggery, and Callaloo. She has received fellowships from places such as the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, Caldera Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Kundiman, Callaloo, BOAAT, the Community of Writers, and Pink Door.