My First Language

There are eighty-five thousand words in
my mother tongue. I choke
on every single one, my throat
clamping around the barrel of a gun
loaded with the names and places I had

shed like a second skin, slick tongue
slipping over the stolen sounds of
sacrifices that were never my own, but

I can’t bear to swallow. I curse
these coarse, guttural noises that
bubble in my mouth but never reach
their boiling point, longing for

the cold specificity of English, wherein we
always differentiate between subject and
object, the doers and the done.

China sent us the virus, they say.
China is trying to kill
us, they tell
me. And I believe it, letting it seep
into my bones, branding it across
my forehead, feeling it trickle off
my chin in never-ending streams,
hearing it ring in my ears, over, and
over, and over, and over, and