Poetry by Albert Abonado

“What I want is to be / obscene among relatives, to talk / blood and dick with sincerity.”

How to Unbend the Tongue

Amazing the tongue that resists dirt
and gravity with prayer. My mother asks

me to teach her how to say sty
and hippopotamus as if she confronts daily
a glut of filth and dangerous rivers. How

do you unbend the tongue? I tried, once,
to learn Tagalog, reciting a catalog

of phrases into the compressed air
of my car, hold conversation
with a hollow man whose silence provides

its own lessons. What I want is to be
obscene among relatives, to talk

blood and dick with sincerity. My mother
told me she could not teach me this:
a brain consumes one

life at a time then bursts. And still,
I hear how she grieves with my aunts, her mouth
full of dust and rice and ditches with wide-

jawed fish that swallow children whole,
that make limbs into shadows of limbs. This

is how you say hippopotamus: a rifle wild
in the mouth, rain against corrugated tin—
weather that ends with a hissing.

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