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

                                                                              ensnared, twisted

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

                                                                                                     torn

against throatskull, mouthdoor, headscape—she used to trip

              against English this way, eh for every misplaced noun—

                          melon             stop sign         telephone—     

                                                                                           I demanded

                                                                 she find it—object

hardened into syllable—I demanded

                                                     she cross the bridge

 

                      —sealed-lip severing—

 

              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

                                                             to sing.

 

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

                                                                                               survival—

      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…

 

             —not what

                                                       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.

                                                              My family.

                                                                              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—

 

                                                                                                          Listen—

        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 [                 ]?

             [resent

                                     ravage

                                                                betrayal]

 

                                                         How do you say [                    ]?

 

 

                                        [nourish

 

 

                                                                 mercy

 

 

 

                                                                                                 kin]

 

 

 

            [I wish I hadn’t

 

 

                                                               I wish I’d been

 

 

 

                                                                                                        regret]

 

 

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

                                                                                       for which

                                                       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.