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mother (tongues) -- poetry by Clarisse Kim

eighteen months old and my first

word, ma (妈), had the new-born

ambivalence of english Ma and 

chinese mā. the sound pinched flat 

at the ends either way, a baby attempt

for Mother. (妈妈)。

five (五) years old and shying away 

from my grandmothers (奶奶) on the

other side of a phone call on the other side 

of the world (世界)。the inability to respond 

(说话) scared me more than the lack 

of understanding (我不明白。我不―)

eight (八) and saying 对不起 (sorry)

to my chinese teacher. 我次到了。(i’m here now,

i’m late.) hiding the fact google translate 

still lurked on a separate tab.

ten (十) years old and making fun of 

my mother’s backwards english (英文). 

forgetting the four-word proverb (成语) 

about cicadas (蝉) and ignorance.

twelve (十二) and realizing 

she thought in a different language.

thirteen (十三) and counting the years

since the last chinatown (中国城) visit.

fourteen (十四) and still relying on mom

to order dumplings (饺子) from the

xiao long bao place. ignoring 

the waiter’s pity. (小姐,还要一盘!)

fifteen (十五) and saying 

sorry (对不起), mom,

i guess chinese school never 

worked on me after all.

sixteen (十六) years old 

and wondering if i’ve lost 

my mother (母亲) 



Clarisse Kim (she/her) is a student and aspiring writer. Her writing has been published in the Marin Poetry Anthology and Under the Madness Magazine. When she isn't writing, Clarisse can be found reading the latest sci-fi novel, eating her weight in MadeGood berry granola bars, or playing (and losing) crane games.

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