Mother in Translation (Reprise)

by Steven Chung

It is easier to tell a lie when speaking a foreign language
but I am monolingual. I want to learn Russian

so I can finally talk to my mother again
about the reason we haven’t spoken in months.

I dream of communism and borscht,
all I know of Russia, and both are red

like my gums, receding, and my teeth
exposed as ever—I am made of bone.

Let’s share equally: piles of translation dictionaries
and the tabletop. So this is illiteracy,

searching for legitimacy in the unfamiliar.
When I inhabit the Cyrillic script I must feel

my neck for a pulse. A time signature for the self.
My teeth are piano keys attempting a symphony:

Mother, we haven’t spoken because I have stopped
speaking to all mothers and daughters and brothers.

This you don’t know, that I am nowhere on your torn atlas
or in our alphabet. I am willing to be lost

in translation if my self doesn’t exist in the first place.
That first place was the womb of a woman

whose English I inherited. You drink wine
in the library after sunsets reading the great Russians:

I know it wasn’t your gift. It was mine to you,
a bloodline connection even in disappearance,

an altar to your own identity.