The remnants of your homeland still remain on my lips:
viennoiseries 2, salty-sweet, a lingering aftertaste, half-forgotten.
Yet, the aroma that permeates the crevices of my life are yours,
Maman. I still remember four years of French phonetics,
Alliance-Francais 2, learning to speak your syllables, learning to be;
un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit,
counting on my chubby fingers till it was muscle memory,
an identity eventually drowned out by a different set of characters,
a mother tongue that wasn’t yours, Maman, pre-decided for me
by faceless admin from a country not even my own,
French, driftwood in a vast grammatical ocean, ghosting through my fingers
like sand, miniscule grains sticking to my fingers, inconsequential,
insufficient for neither a sandcastle nor sentence, bonjour, merci,
Maman, maison. Arcachon, your seaside hometown,
briny ocean air, oysters on ice at the farmer’s market,
slow-waved, simple, nothing like this city of steel-plated structure:
home to you for 25 years, yet not home at all, frigid glass against
the warm palms of memory, the familiarity of tongues and fresh lobster.
You tried your best; mahjong club, chinese class clumsiness, sticky syllables,
vexing vowels, still, betraying a continent of difference, oriental secrets:
I should have held every single ingredient, every little crumb
of your culture closer to my chest, all of it now buried in a locked fridge
in the pantry of a long-gone childhood, bittersweet brie festering before me,
time the ultimate spore, blooming grey-green between the milky layers of my
I’ll recite Jean-Paul Sartre by heart, sing Edith Piaf if the words mean
to you; existentialisme, la vie en rose, do you understand me, Maman?
I love you.