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Mother Tongue

by: Jessica Sung
Chicago, IL

Grandma writes back: I am ok?
followed by a string of punctuation her tired
fingers didn’t mean to type. This error
reveals a half truth. A question
she doesn’t realize she’s asked.

I send her: I love you.
I will go to the store for you. I will get you
what you need. Don’t go outside. I don’t know
how to say this in a way you’ll understand. I don’t
know how to say what I mean.

She says: It’s ok.

Inside, instead, I stew
and make stew and believe
the busier my hands, the quieter
my mind. Not so. The buzzing
doesn’t cease. Garlic, cabbage, pepper, oil.
I brew my potion, let the sizzling,
salted stock drown my thoughts.

Grandma has no use for measuring
cups or recipes or isolation. She makes the food
she’s made for a lifetime. For me, this is the beginning.

I am ok with this. Rinse rice. Rinse rice again.
Cook and keep cooking and knead and keep kneading.
Apply pressure but not too much
or the dough won’t soften again.

I applied too much pressure. Ok. Ok.
I start over. It’s ok.


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