Winner of the 2023 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York
Mother Tongue: A Haunting
By Samyak Shertok
VOLUME 56 No. 3
In my dream, the Horse-Ghost always speaks in my mother tongue.
Ta: Horse. Ta: Root. Mang: Ghost. Mang: Dream.
I grew up wearing only the hand-me-down ghosts.
I have never ridden a horse. I mean I have sat on a moving
horse once. The “tender-broken” Thunder broke the night tenderly.
In the dream, I’m always late to the buckwheat stubble burning.
I live fugitive in a native negative, which is only mine. A landfilled field. Horses.
Where did all the horses go?
In Tamang mouth, ghost, and blossom come from the same root.
In Tamang Tongue—there is no way to say this / in English.
If to speak one’s mother tongue is to keep one’s mother alive,
I kill my mother daily.
Fluent Ghost, look how fluently I spit in my step-tongue. Daughterless have you made your mother tongue? asked the ghost.
The horse sleeps under my tongue like a mother.
I repeat after Mother. I catch the hoofed dust on my tongue. Don’t forget to give water, Mother shouted from the other room, to the horses before you leave.
My ghost, my horse, my tongue, my mother, my always: a dream.
I am here to tell you: It was not a dream.
Once I saw a ghost: half-horse, whole-mother, teeth on teeth, pear blossoms.
Horses have risen. Mother, speak!
• • •
TO READ MORE POETRY, PICK UP A COPY OF VOL 56 No. 3
SAMYAK SHERTOK’s poems appear in Best New Poets, Blackbird, The Cincinnati Review, Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, New England Review, Shenandoah, Waxwing, and elsewhere. A finalist for the National Poetry Series, the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, and the Jake Adam York Prize, he has received fellowships from Aspen Words, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His work has been awarded the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Poetry, the AWP Intro Journals Award, and the Gulf Coast Prize in Poetry. Originally from Nepal, he holds a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah and is currently a Hughes Fellow in Creative Writing at Southern Methodist University.