My Mother Tongue by Jerome Ramcharitar

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

I'm surprised I still speak my mother tongue.

I wish I could remember

when its syllables were longer

and when its k's and t's were less hushed.


I teach my language

against the law.

I bring in vocabulary lists

in white, sterile packets, so everyone thinks

I'm some condom salesman.


Ordering at a restaurant is tough;

I try to hide my accent,

but like a swollen infection

it is hard to ignore.


I am a foreigner in the country

I was born. With every bill,

every law they instate, I lose

something small—a vowel, maybe.

But soon my alphabet collapses

to binary, and I fear even

a nod gives me away.


I teach my language

between gasps

my students make, unable to stand

the strobing sound of my words.


When I make love,

I keep my tongue still.

Even the tightest moan

could expose me.


Sometimes, in the grasp of night,

I tell myself a story—

but the words come slowly, then slowly stop.


I teach my language

in small injections.

My students grimace

but when I leave

they smile and mock an adieu.


I write the words I remember,

but each white page pools the ink,

letting it soak through to the other side.

I turn the page over, try to decipher

the mirrored words, and can only

mumble lessons

half-forgotten

I once taught my students.


Jerome Ramcharitar is a writer based in Montreal, Quebec. Most of his days are spent teaching English as a second language and occasionally causing more trouble as a poet. A dabbler by nature, he has dipped his fingers into editing, translation, and the dangerous world of card games.

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