Mother’s Tongue

Alenka Jovanovski
Featured image: Girl with Camera 5 © Christine Sloan Stoddard 2019

 

As a child, my mother didn’t speak the language of
her mother, but the language of those that had killed her.
She even laughed, hoped and mourned in the language of killers.
They would break in during the night, black bearded and sharp knived
would take the house for themselves.

My mother never utters completely last things,
she is afraid to talk about that.
Even my trousers, this passing thing, were tailored by her
in the language, [that was] measured upon somebody else
(that’s why my trousers are seemingly infinite:
in truth they are always too tight, too long, a wrong style).

I, her daughter, thus swallow foreign languages,
wash my bread abroad and bake foreigners’ clothes.
To be clean and sated I have to be hungry and naked.
To be naked and naked I have to find myself against the wall,
crash against the infinite fact of concrete.

The poisoned language thus spreads its quiet and hidden life:
I nourish it through breadcrumbs, I taste it through broken threads,
I chew holes in the fabric,
this tenacious, rough dimension, this living mixture of water and dust –

I know it when the other and mine are thoroughly mixed-up,
when I don’t know who am I
                    if I am a who at all –
because we are all related by blood, so lonely,
                    without boundaries against what is breaking the door
and entering the language –
                    and who, if who at all,
should strip her bare
                    (and how should she strip her bare)
                    of knives and traces of horror?

The mother, that no longer is, then opens her tongue.
She licks blood and mucus and excrement of her offspring;
makes heart septums get thinner and peptic ulcers get healed,
walls she melts and doors and windows.
A rough muscle wakes them up gently:
The ones that keep sobbing
and the ones that are walled-up in the sleep from within.
 

translated from Slovene by the author