I Got My Father’s Tongue

When I was born, my mother named me
after her favourite flower in the nursery.
And when I asked her about how my father
felt, she said,
“Some trees obsessed with their roots
and widespread branches sometimes do not
like the fruits that they are blessed with.”

She told me how my skin was as soft
as bright lilies and eyes,
the colour of maple syrup
but the folds on my tongue
and its textured skin resembled my father.
The one that craved for extra pepper in food,
the one that spoke love in a language
she barely understood.
His teeth, like plastered roads, hardwood back gates–
that never learnt about softness.
Where letters of affection
often got stuck and couldn’t
make their way to his lip’s crevices.

She told me he was a great chef,
knew about spices and condiments,
so most of his sentences reeked of salt.
His fingers had crushed chunks of ice
so many times that now they lacked warmth.
My mother often cooked him cuisines,
with tamarind, turmeric and sesame seeds.
Cleaned the crockery, served hot food
on fancy plates
and then stood on the other end of the table;
restless and hungry but yet to taste a morsel.
And while he ate, I observed
all his actions and hand gestures.
Leant from him how to chew food precisely,
lick the plate with my tongue after eating
and now he sits on my tongue all the time.

So over the years, this tongue
never learnt about soft touch or tender love,
all it learned was to pronounce love
and war in the same breath.
Chew grief and spit on everyone it met.
Grief for the loss of love that wasn’t there in the first place,
the memory or lack of it settled on its folds.
But the folds on it, its skin is stubborn;
as stubborn as my father’s rage.
So stiff that it screams
on the minor thought of fragility.
So stiff that it refuses to bow down,
or taste age-old patriarchal potions or
gulp down oppression in any form.

Tongues like mine teach their mothers to
spell liberty so loud that it pierces the sky.
Teaches them
to not burn their fingers
in the kitchen to feed
the hands of the man they wish to hold but can’t.
To only trust hands that don’t harm.
Because tongues like mines have always been paranoid,
been tired of spelling names of people they can’t trust.
But are now making an effort and trying.
Trying to trust the ones whose words and actions rhyme.
Tongues like mine are still learning
how to love and unlove people at the same time.

N. Sehar is a poet, student and avid reader. Based in Kolkata, India, her poems are forthcoming in Remington Review. She finds writing a medium to express herself, to view the world through a different lens, and make better sense of it. You can find her on Instagram @seherism

Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty