Gnashing Teeth Publishing

| words that get in your teeth

If you ask me if I’m fluent in Tamil by Tharani Balachandran

woman in a light blue sweater drinking from a white coffee mug

after Melissa Lozada-Olivia

I will tell you that I can always tell when my mother is angry.
I know how to fetch the broom and shoo the cat but don’t have any words
to describe my father staying up all night worrying about the orphaned
baby rabbits he found in the backyard.

My Tamil complains
about a B on a report card instead of an A.
Tamil is an itch that won’t be satisfied
even though I scratch until my skin is raw.

I can flirt but I can’t order a coffee.
I can bargain but never close a deal.
I can convince someone that I don’t belong
but not where I come from.

Tamil is a 25-year war with
no real winners
but plenty of statues of fallen soldiers
whose names no one remembers.

I have forgotten more Tamil than I ever knew.
My Tamil has never seen my parents kiss
but knows love isn’t always something you can witness.
My Tamil loves like the back of a hand

or a wooden spoon.
You only have to open the drawer
to where my Tamil lives
to get me to finally behave myself.

To say the word Tamil
requires that you place your tongue at the back of your mouth.
It is different ‘l’ than loose and lewd and lovely
three words my aunts use to describe women like me.

My Tamil is always looking for a suitable boy.
My Tamil is always bragging about my job but never my friendships.
The only thing my Tamil will always understand about me is my desire
to put an ocean between us.

Tharani is a first generation Canadian lawyer and poet who lives on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen peoples in Victoria, BC with her husband, infant daughter and teenaged cat. She thinks all poems are love poems.

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