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Mother Tongue

I came from gypsies, on my mother’s side.
There would be dawns, in childhood,
When somebody strange came out of the night
To sit at table. Father smoked,
Said nothing. Mother, in a language
Not of this world, wept and harangued.
And the visitor just sat there
Listening. A little woman, glamorous
In the manner of half a century back,
Her perfume like a sounding-board for the senses
Now, at the time of writing...
                                                Barely awake
In the hour of stripped illusions, bitter words,
I drank the milk of origins like a godchild—
Lost hotels, a long prenatal chain
Of wanderings... And this, our household lie
Eclipsed by electric light and shattering clarities,
Broken into. Shouts, recriminations,
Go inside, we’ll call you... Through a wall
No one breached for twenty years
I heard the taxi called. She came inside
And held me to her. No one here understands me—
You alone, morcito....

                                 Years would pass,
I would run away. It was out there somewhere,
The mother-tongue. By now she was striking camp
Or putting down new roots, in another town,
With an absolute stranger, who would educate me
In gambling, horses, family sagas
Endlessly added to, nowhere written down.

This poem originally ran in the April 7, 2011, issue of the magazine.