Mother Tongues

1 November 2012

Most of the time we lived in mine
or appeared to

you had been here as long as I had,
arrived in my birth-year,

but had to wear it in
second skin

(your sixth, if we count
unspoken Classics)

though there was always
a tacit understanding

we could call on yours
and it erupted, comic hernia

in the shared gut of our daily
dealings, at times of great

frustration, bemusement or when
words failed you.

At uni the man who ran
the language lab said, facetious,

that’s how they catch spies
get them to count or say

times tables, you can always
trip up a mother tongue

coax it, shy animal, or
smoke it out, too brutal.

I pull on the tip and up
comes a whole scarf, colourful,

knotted to others and
not about to stop, a magical

evisceration but I want
all of you, things you have

names for that aren’t
seen here: Zwiebelturm,

Trachten, Bergbahn
or fragments, foods from

childhood, still stuck to their
labels and longed for

though irretrievable:
Hagebuttenmarmelade,

so that we cook up together
a Wähe, a Brei

because die Liebe geht durch
den Magen
– goes through the stomach

like language, and last but not least
the cloud of names

buzzing about my head, like Pigpen’s
dust but unseen by others,

unmerited, since I could not live up to them
and they sound now, so many

years later, nearly obscene
with lost intimacy:

Süsses, Schönes, Gutes,
Schatzi, Putzi, Liebes
.

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