Sympathy for Foreign Mothers
PBS taught my brother and me English:
Sesame Street, Between the Lions, Reading Rainbow—
we passed each learned word between one another,
umbilical cord of lessons connecting us
to our new terrain. When mama probed us for words,
we shrugged her off, You don't need it.
Dishcloth clenched in her fist, she'd huff,
What do you know, anyway?
She practiced halting English
on our dad. He stopped her with a hand,
unable to grasp the gibberish flowing past her lips,
her eager words tinged with the kinky thickness
of a borrowed tongue. Just leave the English
to me, he said. Everyone 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 rickety apartment, spent her days
cooking and cleaning, and if she was lucky
to get a call card, 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.
From then on, she didn't utter a single word
in any language until our dad left to work
at a chicken market in the Bronx. Then she perched
right in front of the T.V, her whispers desperate and sharp,
rehearsing phrases from the mouths
of strange lions and big yellow birds,
trying to illuminate their meanings.
–Threa Almontaser (from Baltimore Review)