Mother Tongue

Artwork by Hilma af Klint

I am of love and roots and everything in between. As the yellow ochre of the earth shifts and takes flight in the wind and your name lunges forth through my mouth, sailing on my cursed tongue, darting between my molars and canines to reach you – it is the first thought that dressed rudimentarily in a word I never knew and stepped out despite knowing it would burn to a crisp in the foreign light.

We are not moths drawn to a flame, we are wretched, we are damned. We throw ourselves into the magma because we must know what death tastes like. Is it tart? Is it coy? Is it black? Is it white? Is it silent or is it loud?

Are we trying to save the future or ourselves? We are trying to save a purpose in life. Our purpose may end us but we will know we have lived with one. 

 “Ma” I said in my native tongue before I realized you were Ma, before I realized that “Ma” remains “Ma” in all languages. Yet, when they say “Ma”, I’ll see you and no one else – a snowflake has landed and claimed territory. No other will be the same.

Ma is not a word. Ma is the first January bloom of oxygen that singes your nostrils mint and Ma is the first tang of food to greet our loveless tastebuds. Ma is a prayer and the dust carrying our cremated ashes to another womb. Ma is the first memory that builds a foundation beneath sanctuaries for the torn pilgrims that ventured into you through the arteries of your heart. Ma is the hallelujah married to your final breath as you shed the weight of mortality. Ma, is the language for when you run out of language.

Your are my mother. You are a monster. You are my mother. You crushed my name into a shadow of your own. You are my mother and I am a lost time-traveller hurtling through thorns and hydrangeas towards you.

It is your voice I’ll hear, shushing me with a voice that commands the winds and the sun and what I’ll learn later is called love.

It is your gaze I’ll exfoliate before that summons forth battalions of human resilience that waged a mute war against choice. Or, I should say, the lack of it. It is your hair I’ll smell that has locked within it’s blood-caked gossamer, my father’s splurged anger. When they say Ma, I’ll see a shield that speaks with the same cadence as your bones and in the mirror, a wingless bird trying to reach a key stranded between cliffs. When it sings, it sings of the key as what it shall bequeath to its child. Let her child have brand new wings and all the eons of dreams she burnt on her wedding night. 

I know why the caged bird sings. 

I am of love and roots and nothing else. When I touch you, all the lyres will ring in rigid symphony from the heavens and we will write our names on the crest of lonely mountains. When the rock cascades away, we will be everything, everywhere, all at once. I am of love and roots and names. You pelted stones at me and I felt them as pearls – you spit pearls and call it language. I hang them around my neck even if they don’t form a necklace. A noose is a necklace if you’re willing to sell your name in exchange for survival. 

“Blue skies smiling at me

Nothing but blue skies, all I see

Blue birds singing a song

Nothing but blue skies, from now”

I grieve for my letters don’t disembowel me anymore. I hope they do the owner of the eyes that devour my words for decadence. 

When I was a child I’d mislead people often into thinking I was you, over the phone. When they’d find out, they’d say, “You sound just like your mother! I almost believed, no, I completely believed it was her!” 

I am still a child Ma, or I want to be. I haven’t found a home since I left your womb. I came out of the oven too fast. My exteriors are coral reefs but I’m mud inside. I fall apart at the slightest mention of war. I implode for I couldn’t explode. If I did, I’d drown the sun.

That is the thing about voices. Another person may have a voice like yours but they’d never sound like you. The voice is but a messenger. They could never dot their “i”s and cross their “t”s like you do. Voices are like snowflakes. They’re made of the same water, same wind and same weather but no two snowflakes look the same. Now when they hear my voice over the phone they say, “You sound just like your father! How you’ve grown.” But I do not want to grow if it is him I grow into. I love you, father, but I’m not you. I’m the seed that fell the farthest from the flower – fell to the earth. The earth is my mother. Ipsa est infinita. She is infinite. 

When I scream “MA!” in a room full of mothers, I hope only you’d turn.

When I started writing this, it was about names. But oh how I forget. Ma, I’m your namesake. You are my mother-tongue.

“In Vietnamese, the word for missing someone and remembering them is the same: nho. Sometimes when you ask me over the phone, “Con nho me không?” I flinch, thinking you meant, “Do you remember me?”

I miss you more than I remember you.”

-Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.



A neurodivergent 18 year old, Shazia is still learning about herself. You’d find Shazia either lost in an Ocean Vuong novel or watching people go by on the road with a marlboro in hand and music blasting in her ears. An aspiring English Hons. graduate, she is trying to make ends meet and failing miserably at it, for there is so much to do, a universe to learn and such little time.


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