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Mother Tongue

A poem

Some days I long for the mama-loshen
the secret words in my bones

my grandpa smoking in the arm chair
kvetching about the shmucks in the government

and the dreck on the streets. I thought these were English words
I listened to, as I piatchked around the dark house, 

kibbitzing, because there was nothing else to do.
We didn’t know sentences, just words

cracked off like bark from our past tree lives
already transplanted, my grandparents — branches; 

my parents — apples; my brothers and I — seedlings
And my children, who are they in whitewashed New England

laughing at words I thought I’d forgotten
until I have to explain

tchatchke, shmendrick,
mishegas, shlock.

Sometimes I long for my unpolished accent,
despite my shame describing the hall 

of my house to Californian friends.
They thought I said “hole” 

as if I were a rodent living in dirt.
Now, when I speak, the words are bland as rice

bleaching the memories of my childhood
that endless shlep.