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Saturday, 27 September 2014

Mother Tongue

All these years, and you would not play it for me.

Sometimes, you would reach for it,

rest it across your thighs, and strum, haphazardly,

a few incomplete chords.


Why won’t you play? I wondered, afraid to ask,

but wishing for it as much as I longed to hear

you speak in your mother tongue.


(You were washing the dishes,

and looking out the window-

Say something for me?

And, gently, you spoke words

that swooped lazily across the sky

caught low in my backyard.

I asked what you had said,

and you told me you had made a poem

about the playful sweep of a brown bird

from walnut tree to roof.)


One time, you plucked carefully,

with the gentlest of moth feet,

and you sang a lullaby.

But, oh! so quickly, it was over,

and all that was left behind

was uncertainty,

the way that you can hear a windchime

in the distance, and stop,  in silence,

to wait, unsure, for the sound to repeat itself.


I don’t know why you decided,

after so long,

to lift the timber torso onto your lap

and start to play,

with your big, calloused hands-

the big-knuckled, square hands of a

hardworking man.

Your square fingertips fumbled the strings

and you bent your silver-fox head forward

and started to whistle- breathily-

the tune of a sad and haunting song.

And then you started to sing.


And then it was one song after the other,

and, soon, I sang along with you,

and, after all these years, it was a communion,

it was the blameless coming together

we had never expected to have.


I didn’t want it to stop.

It was like when you find a white wallaby

grazing in your backyard by the sea, on an island,

in the dark, and you stand, frozen,

your bare feet on buffalo  grass already icy with frost,

and you hold your breath,

not wanting to startle the creature-

alert, and white as a bowl of milk in the night,

and poised, ready to halt, to look in your direction

and spring away, barely ruffling the leaf litter



like one of those fleeting things

that you know may never happen again,

but that remain in your memory,

glowing and milk-white.





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