That’s over 123 ways to try and say I love you. Here, I only say 

it in English. I learnt English on the other side to be on the other side 

of the other side. It takes over today to siphon the thickness out 

of my tongue trying to fit in the room that is not meant for me. You see 

this tongue was my house full of dreams once. The top floor guarded 

the most fluent—the American. It floated on my mothers tongue, its water 

reached by her withered hands, the warm wetness used to fill the crevices 

of her fingerprints. The moisture necessary to smooth the touch and count 

on everything she earned that day. After dinner, she’d squat on cold bathroom

tiles, wash the yellow deodorant off my shirt, while I wrote love letters in English 

to good ol’ boys. Her candle-lit face from the opposite room made everything look possible—even the

costly land of the free I wanted to run to, my direction 

always the West. 

I could pack my country in three bags: two old, one new, bright pink 

ribbons tied on its handle to help me recognize my roots if I was let 

past the immigration cubicle. When I united with that country in this country,

my village brimmed, spilled through the zips, heavy and heaving, trying so hard 

to fit in. Americans do this funny thing when asked where they’re from—they tell me

where they grew up and add where they last lived. I grew up in Nepal in the upper lip

of Banepa where Rhododendrons are so sweet you say their name when you have a


bone stuck in your throat. I last lived in New York City, the silence

so loud sometimes I cannot hear my breath. When I returned home, I stopped 

calling it home. The old brown rooms with my grandparent’s gospels and folklore

were sinking in the murky bottom of the water, leftover from 

my mothers tongue where lived my dirty soaked shirt once. And everyone said

you have become so American now, you have deported all of those 123 tribes 

from your mouth, you walk like them now, you talk like them now. Wow. 

The land of the free has cost me my country. It wiggles on my tongue that I have

swallowed. My tongue is stuck in my throat. I say Rhododendron

and it does not work in English. When my tongue finally lurches to the catacombs

of my mothers tongue, all it can say is 

I love you

Alisha Bade Shrestha Bhaila  एलिशा बादे श्रेष्ठ भैल  is a Nepali student currently exploring storytelling in theatre, visual and literary arts. Her work meddles with girlhood, femininity and female spaces in liminal as well as speculative zones. She lives in four and a half languages. 

Artists’ Statement: This poem wrestles with my American dream leading to being fluent in English and touches upon how it impacted my mother tongue and my mother’s tongue. In My Country There Are 123 Languages is a new work and very much a poem in progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *