English Lessons

by Christina Dendy

We meet twice a week to practice letters
to make greetings and small words to translate ourselves
from one space to another. We speak different tongues
but we resonate with the language of mother. Still
she tries to learn the inflections of English a bastard
born of conquest and demographic dispersal

(she needs to work rent buy grain for dumplings
that simmer and bob with stove-top chicken bone)

even as I scrabble letters to read the meaning
between the lines on her face on her hands to decipher
the graphing in the pink-on-brown scars that mark
the place where bullets entered and exited her life

shooting what remained of her family
from one discovered country to another.

Once upon a history her ancestors fled and fought
such linguistic mastery only to seek refuge now in its body
writ when some butterfly wings the world to new effect

(events are tidal)

and our children chase butterflies in the sparse
green amid concrete gable courtyard in four-square
apartments that remind me of the military complex
my own folks once made us home—strangers in
strange lands—but we had the guns.

My tales never bled bullets.

I wonder what story she will tell when she is able if she
will blend the syllables of the several speeches she knows
already to make anew to squeeze the pulp from every forgotten
fruit trampled and juiced in the road—to compose

fresh seeds of her own
to bear to be born to produce to be known.

If all the pain is worth what we grow.

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