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Elegy for a Mother Tongue

Blood-veiled body, buried-blue sun, show them what our names do to us.


You, skinny dipping

into language.

You who think you know your father’s name.

Do you remember the taste of it?


It’s not a song.

As it enters the eardrum, it leaves nothing

but the body’s tomorrow splattered

on the ceiling. You’d think we’d get used to it by now

but here we are, hand in hand,

going backward again. The body –

no longer a man – thinks it should’ve said goodnight

a little sooner. I think we shouldn’t be so proud

of how well we mourn.


Even this room’s glass door sounds like old men laughing.

Old men clutching the crystallized sea

- blue summer sky, cackling

at how they have monopolized daylight.

Laughter. The air already sharpening into yesterday,

into bullets. Laughter as the faucet drips red

with early evening. Imagine: a red so red

it can be nothing but evidence of blood – beneath it,

blue sky buried stomach-down next to a tired sun. It laughs

as an old man loads his revolver, points it to his mother.

The earth has no choice

but to make way. Do you know how it feels

to look at your people, asking

How many of you have starved?

This is an ode, I promise.


& it’s nothing, I’ve just gotten so used to a stranger’s tongue in my mouth that I can’t say my name any other way.

& no, it wasn’t hunger, but its absence that broke me.

What I inherited was once language, but now rubble.

I’m filled to the brim with everything but daylight – summer already too humid & family already too far away to miss.

Help me out, Baba, there must be another word for this.

Does anyone ever come to terms with outgrowing home?

How can a house be too much & too little to hold?

Why can I only write about you when I miss you?


My people, how much have we lost?

How much have we suffered

because of our beauty?

My people,

are you listening now?

Last night, I learnt to drown

through thirst, which is to say I learnt to fill the cracks

with a different kind of otherness.

I’m singing with a stranger now,

which is to say we’re making out

in three languages.

Making an out

out of language.

Could you blame us?

All we’ve been searching for

was a different kind of heat –

not as humid as home, but somehow more

real. That the body, craving another’s salt,

learnt to subsist on its own

hunger. You could call that a tragedy.

You could.


You, singing a song you once understood.

Dancing through muscle

memory. Stumbling

through your family home. As if every step

doesn’t give you away.


I write the ode & fuck it up. I fuck up & write the ode anyway.


When they ask you where you're from, tell them your name has been said by a thousand mouths without tongues.

Because our wars didn't make for a good myth.

Because what I made of my birthright was a shipwreck – driftwood telling the river of how it once belonged.

Because our tears move no one, not even ourselves.

Because saying loneliness just once isn’t enough.

Because kalungkut-lungkot.

Because twelve words for grief & you still search for one more.

In the morning, I wake to the sound – again – of my grandfather's prayers.

A sound so familiar I'm almost here

again – like I really can breathe underwater.

But I’m sorry, Baba, I don't know if I still believe.

But that's a lie.

Yes, I still believe we're more than what we've lost.

That the poem only started once I learnt it wasn't a silent art.

That I built a home out of everything a word wasn't meant to be.

That even I was once holy.

I want a brighter night sky.

I want to pull back God's hijab & kiss him for who he really is – not the moon, gorgeous only through impossibility, but the rust red leaf that has felt the long embrace of being.


Maybe this is all I am –

a fingernail scraping through debris,

searching for any face like its own, only ever escaping

into a more comfortable cage.

A tongue recalling itself, its own sun-wet taste,

for never long enough.

In the eye of a wildfire, I wanted

to call this echo of a plane crash

my own. To dance & welcome airline shrapnel

into my hands. They say a song connects us

but we know it's only what comes after.

They say a song can reach past the tongue

& into the ribcage, but.


I write the ode & cross it out. I write the aubade not knowing it’s an aubade – leave it in. Who did you think this was for? This is still what it set out to be. This is still.


A nation staining a broken mural.

A nation as debris of language. This is a speaking

through fracture

& it doesn’t matter. Someone’s coming

to sweep the floors, to turn yesterday what it is

to the guilty, the powerful – broken glass to step over

on their way to God’s newest name. Move along,

be proud, the scar is our land for renovation.

My nation thanks you for your harm. Listen to them jeer. Cheer.

Cheers, sir. A cheers to my nations who sing to me

in curses, write to me in cursive nobody understands,

the drums are not for me

& all my guitars are burning.


Sweating underwater, I cling onto the driftwood until I am the

driftwood. Drowning downstream, I sing with what I have left.

All debris comes home eventually. All debris becomes home.

Learning to breathe underwater, I became more than rubble. My body

thrown into the river, I became the river & found peace in movement.


Blood-veiled body, buried-blue sun, show them

what our names do to us.

Let the children know

the joy in saying I

do not understand. Let it be the fire

eater, still burning, still so human

as the flame hears for the first time:

you are a part of me. Let it be the son, setting

the moment before he gets to say goodnight.

Laughter. My nations sing to me.

All my silences stand

& cheer.


MJ Gomez is a 19-year-old writer from the Philippines, currently based in Saudi Arabia. Pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English, they enjoy playing guitar on hot, sleepy days and stargazing through bus windows. Their work is forthcoming or published in Verum Literary Press, the Cloudscent Journal, the Lunar Journal, and others. You can find them on Twitter @bluejayverses!


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