Bittersweet

Poetry by Natasha Ramoutar
Book Cover of Translated from the Gibberish
Bittersweet
By Natasha Ramoutar
Mawenzi House Publishers (2020)

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Natasha Ramoutar

Many Tongues

I do not speak
in my mother’s tongue of exasperated sighs and soft laughs,
those noises that sit side to slight smiles

I do not speak
the dialect of my grandmother,
struggling to imitate her voice as she says
yuh tek yuh eyes and pass me

I do not speak
the words of those women before my grandmother
from some long lost homeland across oceans

I try to wrap my mouth
around the stretched vowels of the word jaan;

come up empty
and gasping
every time

Ink

What I tell my sister: I want a tattoo.
What I don’t tell her: I want flowers to bloom from the corners of my body, and vines to ride up and down my legs like some sort of new age Poison Ivy. I want moons and waves and forests. I want to be a landscape.

What she tells me: You’d have to hide it.
What she doesn't tell me: It is shameful to ink your body. Keep your surface plain and unaltered. Refrain from piercing dipped needles through your skin.

What I tell her (smirk): Grandma has a tattoo.
What I do not tell her: Grandma must have gotten her tattoo very young, younger than me, because it is faded and stretches in the folds of her skin.

What she tells me (laugh): Grandma didn’t have a choice.
What she does not tell me: Our grandmother, tender and young, must have been branded like an animal.

What I don't tell my sister: Maybe I am already inked, a darkness that passes beneath the skin, from generation to generation.

On Reading

My grandmother could neither read nor write,
grew up at home taking care of others so they could go to school
while she cooked dhal and bhagee, pumpkin and roti, scrubbed floors till they shined

Words on paper were reduced to symbols, to foreign lines and curves
I caught a glimpse of her phone book once—
the same squiggles and curves, lines and edges
of our colonial alphabet in a sequence that only she could comprehend

My grandmother could neither read nor write,
but she always read us like open books, our faces like fresh-inked pages

I’d watch through glass panels of closed doors as she would cook,
kneading dough the way I needed writing,
putting ingredients in the pot like pen to paper

She would edit the bad words with tea,
sweeten the bitter pages until they were born anew

If I close my eyes, I can sometimes feel
the rough grains of sugar on my tongue once more

Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough (Ganatsekwyagon) at the east side of Toronto. Her work has been included in projects by Diaspora Dialogues, Scarborough Arts, and Nuit Blanche Toronto and has been published in The Unpublished City II, PRISM Magazine, Room Magazine, THIS Magazine and more. View bio.
 
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