Language

My mother is a tornado
tearing into floorboards
with the undulated strength
of her tongue,
she rips apart excuses
with words that echo
across our history
and the blame is neatly
designated – my stupidity,
my ignorance –
why can’t you be a proper Burmese lady?
again I trip over my ancestry
every time I’m asked to address
an elder – a monk –
a friend – so I’ve stapled
the roof of my mouth
to my tongue and let
my silence speak –
but rude, how can you
know your place in the world
when you can’t even
pronounce it?

I say rice paddy fields
in the arch of a violet sky,
pond water riddled with
water hyacinths, purple
like velvet sacks
that suffocated our princes,
red earth that took
our kings and queens
I call thibaw’s name and he responds
from a foreign grave.
they have killed all of us
stuff dirt into our mouths
and now complain
that we cannot speak.

my mother forgets that she
decided that my brother and I
would only attend English schools.
I remember restitching my tongue
to articulate words that felt
too much like gunshots
like the storming of the Shwedagon
like the rubies falling from my lips
into the laps of white men.
I say colonialism
and it sticks in my throat.
I say remember how we died
and she responds
the white men didn’t kill us.
but why then am I here
writing this poem in their language
so they might understand—
why then do I stutter
when I try to speak
my native tongue
why then do I hear laughter
in the mouths of relatives
and strangers, saying bo ma
“foreign woman”
I am a foreigner
on my own ground.

the land is a stranger
to me. I ask it if
I can come home,
it responds in a language
I recognize
but can no longer
understand.

 

 


Mandy Moe Pwint Tu is a writer and a poet from Yangon, Myanmar. She has been published in World Poetry Movements Best Poets and Poems of 2012 and with the Society of Classical Poets. She has featured at the Perth Poetry Club and has represented Myanmar in the Perth Poetry Festival’s segment, Asian Connexions. She was also published in the annual Perth Poetry Club zine, Recoil 7. At 21, she co-founded the Yangon Literary Magazine, which was featured in the BBC Radio 4 documentary Yangon Renaissance: Poets, Punks, and Painters. She is currently studying English and Women & Gender Studies at Sewanee: the University of the South.

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