tongue #multilingualism

Nisrine Mbarki
Author text
9789493256330 front

The life of the Dutch poet and literary translator Nisrine Mbarki takes place in various languages and countries. Several poems in her recent collection Oeverloos (published by Pluim, nominated for the C. Buddingh'-prijs 2022 and partly written in residency at Passa Porta) deal with this.

Such is the case with "tongue", the poem she read and commented on during our second evening on multilingualism in collaboration with Kaaitheater, this time concerning the "mother tongue", a notion which for more and more people is far from self-evident. You can now read Michele Hutchison's English translation of the poem.



my mother deprived me of her language and herself
my infant tongue was left to the mercy of
harsh monastic sounds on peat
muttered prayers that warded off all things
residual slanging matches from invaders of old
old symbols on the tattooed chins of mothers mothers mothers
since then I have dragged fate along behind me by its crown

in my juvenile throat a cruel pact was made
an arrangement like that of divorced families
for the sake of the child
a togetherness that sanctified means from the days when ideals were gods
gods that protect those who make worthy sacrifices
sacrifices as flawless as incisors
I have drunk swollen milk from your many breasts
without really knowing who was who
in my windpipe you imagined yourselves Nimrod in Babel

لو كنت أؤمن بمفهوم الأمومة لوكنتن امهاتي

the syntactics were sown in neat beds
side by side
in my larynx

you carved symbols in my vocal chords
drove swords into the roof of my mouth
you pushed wings out through my ribcage
for a possible
in the cavity of my mouth you revived creatures
whose names were taboo
their sharp curled ⵉⵙⴽⵉⵡⵏ threatening daily to
to banish my uvula
hooves trampled eux and oui and kissed ي and م
for their flowing forms
to my head you sewed ears kneaded from your tones
ma tête lourde de vos promesses

I have abolished exile
on my tongue an orgy takes place
my uvula spits fire in distress my lips gently blow away borders
Germanic snowflakes dissolve
in ancient Semitic mountain-bastards
boundless marriages are forged every day between my cheeks
gliding smoothly like polished beads in a rosary
after time
after time

my tongue is split in its loyalty to North and South
my mother grows old and sometimes speaks her language
which I finally learned
from grandmothers who nourish the earth before drinking themselves

Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison

Nisrine Mbarki (1977, Tilburg) is a poet, writer, literary programme maker and translator from the Arabic into Dutch.

Nisrine Mbarki