A Mother Tries to Speak English By Steven Pelcman

A Mother Tries to Speak English
 
The words come out crooked
as if gravity does not exist,
syllables floating in space
then hooked on teeth
shaped by a foreign tongue
 
speaking to me no differently
than horses to sheep
or gurgling sounds
slurred and moving lips
the way pantomime pretends
 
a soundless pain is less meaningful
to the listener as my mother aches
with hunger to speak and teach
what she could not comprehend
trained in silence by Nazi guards.
 
The shame in being different
and hated because someone
must be the object while others
feed themselves on the golden
teeth stolen from the dead
 
and if I would have known
when spanked at birth
I would have remained silent
to not represent a different pain,
the challenge of bringing up a child
 
in a new land where the immigration trail
leads to New York City and the tenement
rows of many languages and overhead
El-trains rumbling past the jungle-parking lots
full of smashed cars and garbage.
 
Each flawed word means survival
and each new syllable pierces the air
like shots fired at the backs of Jews
running away from the sounds of boots
in-step rhyme marching through the ghetto.
 
It takes time for the body to be devoid
of pain, of the beatings, of the memories
of the dead lying about littering the streets
with their mangled bodies
where gender, and age and hair coloring
 
becomes a montage covering the cement
with skin and bone and dried blood and the empty
eyes seeing the world upside down, it takes time
to remember you are not the walking dead and
that your new language is a home you can hide in.

Steven Pelcman is an American writer of poetry and short stories who has been published in a number of magazines including: The Windsor Review, The Cape Rock, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, among others. He was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize for individual poems and his volume of poetry, like water to STONE, Adelaide Books was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart prize. In addition, he has published poetry books: American Voices, Outlaws Publishing 2017 and where the leaves darken, 2018 Adelaide Books and the novel, RIVERBED, Mirador Publishing, May 2020. Please see his Goodreads profile for more info.

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