my mama’s tongue didn’t learn no quiet.
it didn’t learn no sit down, cross your knees,
no cross your ankles neither.
didn’t learn to press against the back of teeth
and feel them press back just as hard,
didn’t learn to push the soft insides of cheek in restraint.
tongue-in-cheek? more like tongue-in-ear.
man, does my mama like to talk with a tongue that
flies like them Mexican mosquitoes—
she swears they’re the loudest in the world
and I swear she is, too.
my mama’s tongue sure did learn how to fight,
how to pack a punch, learned which words hurt early
and how to spit them, hurl them at any hijo de puta
who dared disrespect her.
it learned how to walk the streets and the
alleys between them, how to look both ways,
but never tread carefully—that tongue stomps,
that tongue knows the best paths to make a hard man smile,
and sweetest ground for the most tired sole—she knows.
That tongue is smart.
my mama’s tongue never took kindly to English,
never learned to speak words neatly, never understood
a language whose words don’t want to meld
together; when she says “hello” her tongue tastes no flavor
but when she says “oye” you know she’s arrived,
you know she brings the heat of Mexico City pavement, of
all those bodies pressed together in the streets under
unrelenting sun—in that voice thick with an accent that
makes your ears dig and flinch lies the thirst of Iztapalapa,
the clamor of the tianguis, echoes of my grandmother singing
“padre nuestros que estás en los cielos…”
my mama’s tongue didn’t learn no quiet until she
tried to spell out the American Dream on her palms,
tried to make it here on this new pavement, new language,
until all those words sweet like miel fluttered away,
wild tongue reduced to English nothing, stilted and rotten:
proud mouth taught never to ask for help finally succumbing—
but I’ll never let the red white and blue erase our brown.
Pahlavi Wakharkar graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 with a double major in Political Science and English.