Mother Tongue

Lengua de mi madre, have you forgotten me
+++++in greenness of your green
Havana palms, in your thousands of orchid
+++++blooms, in woven shades
of your mango trees, flamboyant trees stretching
+++++like a brocade or aged fishing net?
When did I lose what I never received from you?
+++++Some part I’m missing or some part
++++++++++that missed me. Perder:
+++++to lose or miss an object or a thing
like keys or time, but not the same, as to say
+++++I miss you: te entrañjo.

Perhaps you haven’t forgotten; perhaps,
+++++you merely passed over me
as when saying los padres when la madre is there,
+++++her singular identity erased
even if she’s in a crowd of madres and there’s one
+++++padre among them: one father
or many parents. My anglo father learned to speak
+++++with an accent, proof of how long
++++++++++you’ve been here, vestige
+++++of the power you wielded in mouths
of conquistadores. And the few who survived, los pocos
+++++spoke a pastiche—a bastard tongue.

I can’t know more than las historias: the histories
+++++that are passed down to us,
the same as when you mean to say the stories—
+++++a homonym I discern only
from context or pattern of where it states itself.
+++++The lineage is everything.
I’m two steps away from holding you as if always
+++++my own. I’ve listened to you, rhapsodic:
++++++++++the way my mother speaks
+++++at home, the way mi abuela spoke
in this world. And when I was confused, I fused
+++++a flesh from your sounds.


Sara Burnett’s poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Mother Tongue, is forthcoming (Dancing Girl Press) in 2018. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland and an MA in English literature from the University of Vermont. She is a recipient of Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarships to support her writing. A former public high school teacher, she also writes on education equity and designs curriculum. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and blogs at writingwhileparenting.blogspot.