Mother Tongue

Mother tongue
Strokes my neck when I am sick
Aims blunt words at me when I am bad
Circles my belly button with a story
Just for fun.
I know the meaning of all
These things and also
Know none of the words
I know when they are spoken
And not what they say
I have all the context
And none of the details.

My grandparents saved their language
For themselves
I am soothed by words I do not speak.
Twice, I have passed conversations–
In a shopping mall food court
At a train station–
In that familiar soft speech
Incomprehensibly comforting
And stopped in my tracks, hovering
Eavesdropping
Not to listen, but to feel.
To put the sounds back
Into my body after decades
Of being without them.

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