Mother Tongue

Mar 22, 2019

Today’s poem is “Mother Tongue” by Mihku Paul. She is a Malecite writer and artist born and raised in Old Town. Her family is from Kingsclear First Nations, New Brunswick. Her first book of poetry, 20th Century PowWow Playland, was published in 2012 by the Greenfield Review Press. She is completing her second collection on water and transformation for Frog Hollow Press, Victoria B.C. She lives and works in Portland.

She writes, “My grandfather spoke English, French, Wolastoq (Maliseet) and Micmaq. He served in World War II. And I can remember being with him on the river islands as a child and him telling me we could not even vote because we were Indian. A strange world we live in.”   

Mother Tongue
by Mikhu Paul

Stolen child, stranger with no name.
Her mouth has been sewn shut.
The songs, on their long flight,
years upon years, birth upon death, lost.
Mute witness, what silence is this?
Unfortunate demise, flesh and bone,
language we lived by,
scattered like pollen dust,
the trace of finest powder.
Possessed, our teeth clack and grind,
purpled lips slap and curl, a strangled wailing:
tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia.
One thousand ways to kill a thing, and
only one true way to save it:
Our words, shape of sounds no longer familiar,
buried at Carlisle.
Oh, Grandmother, we are wandering now.
The map obscured, ripped and bloodied.
We speak a strange tongue.
    We are ghosts, haunting ourselves.

Poem copyright © 2012 Mihku Paul. Reprinted from 20th Century PowWow Playland, Bowman Books, 2012, by permission of Mihku Paul.