mother tongue

WRITTEN BY ARDEN YUM

How twisted is it

to reduce language into a string

of sounds I don’t understand. To attach melody to conversation, playing in an elevator. Going up. My feet off the floor because even gravity forgets itself. A mother tongue that

isn’t much of a mother if she doesn’t teach

her child how to speak. Korean words scorch my slow tongue, my mouth red & blue

from the cold winter. My own body

rejecting language, the connective tissue

of its history. My ancestors weeping in the ground. I can’t tell if it’s a blessing that we can only feel each other through the water that seeps out of our narrow eyes. Me, a fraud on the concrete steps of Busan. Yellow skin tainting the pastel sea of paper umbrellas shielding porcelain complexions from sunburn. The white dust of a snowglobe pouring out onto the pavement. The sky sinking into the river. My grandmother once asked me why I was so dark and I said I had been swallowed

by a shadow. The sun drenched me

in light & I felt like a stake

of wood in the fire, growing warmer, browner until there was ash, floating & then falling

down.

Arden Yum is a high school senior living in New York City. She has been recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing and YoungArts, and her writing has appeared in Polyphony Lit and The Apprentice Writer, among others.