My Mother’s Tongue is Balkan

My mother’s English jerks like a mare that has sighted the Danube. Her tongue is tied with white lace and folktales and the song of Balkan crones and nymphs around a forest fire. My mother’s tongue speaks one language but is understood by all. Her tongue always gives her away like a “runaway bride” or one of the other “Americanisms” she has learned after arriving in the land of the dead Last Mohicans. She is always troubled by her treacherous un-conforming mouth parts, but mostly by her ancestry. My mother, she says, “fruet” instead of normal fruit, and researches how best to pickle plums in America and “where can one find good cow-cheese for burek?”

She says mila, dear sweet girl – come here, help me with these stolen Mohican words.” She chews on a Bic while comparing Cyrillic and Latin letters in her copybook and her blue eyes take on the color of ink. She sighs, “I am stupid. Never did well in school, or perhaps it’s early Alzheimer’s like that of my great-great aunt Vera. She too, died alone in a foreign country that didn’t want her because of her tongue. Imagine, I survived a war, and your father’s hate and my fear of the American man, but am afraid of their alphabet – mostly W – demonic letter that it is.”

And she then calls me Mila, like my grandmother’s name, and it
sounds like poetry but then she says “wacuum” pulling V over the words with a
sucking that feels like a death rattle each time, like something that might
finally kill her is stuck in her long neck. My mother’s Ws are hard but she is
a Durmitor rock and her words are
fragments – she speaks like she wants to forget the vowel-less language of her
ancestors and the shape of their black mountains.

Later, at the 7-Eleven we stop for
a crushed ice slushy and when she asks for wet
she trembles, spilling words like quarters from a Blue purse that is
embroidered with a single rose that is Red. My mother’s tongue was molded in
the Balkans; she can only hear the strumming of a tamburitsa song in her mind.