424: A Mother's Mouth Illuminated

424: A Mother's Mouth Illuminated

424: A Mother's Mouth Illuminated

A Mother’s Mouth Illuminated
by Threa Almontaser

PBS taught us English: Sesame Street, Between the Lions, Mr. Rogers.
We passed each learned word between one another—
 
an umbilical cord of lessons connecting us
to our new terrain. When our mom probed us for words,
 
we shrugged her off, You don’t need it. Dishcloth clenched
in her fist, she huffed, No matter how high the hawk flies, 
 
it’s never too late to turn back to the tree.
This is likely a mistranslation. She bled open 
 
book spines with her teeth. Arrowed her mouth 
to the Reading Rainbow channel. Rerouted herself 
 
to a place with less mourning, more light. 
One evening, she practiced her halting English
 
on our dad. He stopped her with a hand, 
unable to grasp the gibberish, her eager words 
 
tinged with the kinky thickness of a borrowed 
speech. Just leave the English to me, he said. 
 
The rats north of 140th street were making him 
cruel. We insisted, Don’t worry about it. A woman 
 
in the house all day, you won’t need it. It’s true 
she was sequestered on the top floor of our apartment, 
 
spent her days cooking and cleaning, lucky to get a call 
card and phone her family back home. What friends 
 
did she have other than us? We were fitting in 
ourselves, had no time to be the companion 

of a lonely adult who used to think herself fluent, 
tongue dined with five-star speeches. From then on, 
 
she kept to herself. Didn’t utter a single word
in any language until our dad left to work
 
at a chicken market in the Bronx, when she fled 
into the screen. Into the hood where muppets 
 
lived. Then she plugged in her belly-string 
and feasted, her whispers desperate for the words, 
 
for the strange lions and big yellow bird,
trying to illuminate their meanings.

"A Mother's Mouth Illuminated," by Threa Almontaser. Used by permission of the poet.