Mother and Her Languages – A Hybrid by Henneh Kyereh Kwaku

Mother & Her languages

[…] What was the first known act of translation in the history of mankind?

[…] it was when a mother heard her baby babble or cry, and had to decide in an instant what it meant.

—Mary Ruefle

Over the phone, I tell Maa: please rest. She snorts. I understand. She means: if I don’t, who will? I wish I didn’t understand this. But I do. I wish this could be lost in translation—but I’d be a wicked son, unworthy, but still a son— not to understand my mother’s tongue.
Another day on the phone, Maa: n’te wo n’ka akyɛre. Maa has never said I miss you, if she ever did, I don’t remember or maybe I stole it from her throat—I sharpened my tongue on a stone, pulled her closer, licked her throat until the words lost their roots & their heaviness.
None of us ever said: I love you in Bono, English’s weightlessness allows us the carrying of this burden. English of the oppressor. English of the oppressed. English that bumps chest with my tongue & falls. English, your Love translates to weed, the act of cutting unwanted plants. So I love you is I weed you, n’dɔ wo.
Do we weed what we love or love what we weed? If I could weed Maa, it’d be to tree her at a better place. & all this loving I’ve been learning, all this searching—is to find the best spot to tree love or the weeded. [How’s the past of weed not wed like read for read?]

& water her.
& sun her.
& feed her.
& see her.
& rest her.

I want to be a mother more than I want to be a father. My father is a mother, but fatherhood comes first—I want to be a mother where motherhood comes first. I want to weed my children like my mother loves me. With more words to the signs. That when I hold a Stop Sign for them, I also say: Stop. Or when I buy them stuff or pay their fees, I also say: I fucking love you!
& tree them.
& lick their throats.
& make them.
& bewitch them.
& to bewitch is to make, is to do. & what better thing can a mother do than to make their child, to do them good. The breaking of water is a doing, a making—& so is the singing of lullabies. & so is the killing of mosquitoes. A bucket of water may just be a bucket of water but to the mosquito, it may be an ocean, a safe place to make babies.

—Her language
A mother’s unspoken language is caution.
Her forehead creases, caution.
Come home, caution.
Her eyes roll, caution.
Her brows twitch, caution.
Your name-fast-paced, caution.
Your name-undertone, caution.
Your name alien-toned, caution.
Your name is caution.
Her eyes, caution.
Her anger, caution.
Her slippers, caution.
Cautioning is of love as love is of it. It is only the God that loves you that reveals to you what they abhor. To caution is to love is to weed—to cut out the evils from a child. To show them the light & the dark. A mother is another word for love, for caution, for weeding. Tree me, mother. Mother me, tree.

Henneh Kyereh Kwaku is the author of Revolution of the Scavengers, selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the APBF New Generation African Poets Chapbook Series. He won third place for the Samira Bawumia Literature Prize in 2020. He studied Public Health at the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ghana. Kwaku is from Gonasua in the Bono Region of Ghana. His twitter bio says he’s ”God’s child,” ask him which God via Twitter/IG: @kwaku_kyereh & Henneh Kyereh Kwaku on Facebook.

Banner Art: Writing Daffodils, a digital collage by Robert Frede Kenter

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