I learn to swear reading Catcher in the Rye

in Chinese, 10 years old and foreign

in a country called the Motherland.

Before that, I learn to write

tracing letters, scratching

characters on grid lined paper,

field shaped boxes. The strokes like

wheat filling up,

a harvest. 6 years old,

I carve quiz answers into an eraser:

camel, strawberry, green grass.

Trying and failing to remember,

chewed up and spat out,

me, stumbling

over my words,

covering my mouth with

all that I cannot say out loud.

I miss you, I’m sorry,

I just want to know you


Coaxing teeth,

a grape, crushed

“r”s in the back of my throat.

My jaw clutched in your hands,

trying to sound out the vowels to yet another language.

Feathers, dust, skin, coughed up

over time. Can I hold all the things I have

yet to learn to say, gently?

Palms cupped,

until they have thawed in the sunlight.

This article is a part of The Ubyssey's 2023 language supplement, In Other Words.