the tongue takes a vulgar–primitive– u-turn against the teeth jutted out   

denting L & Rs into slur

it does beget american synthetic dry paste

the words in 

tranquility/tumult tumbles through concrete 

tearing apart soft plump flesh 

let the reign of surgical knives build you anew  

dusty pink / chapped 

the fingers crawl over a cheek, forking out saliva 

so cold / death curled back 

if it does not fit fine-tipped i wish 

to saw the remains for the lips to turn matte gold

piercing every crevice dollar for dollar

the happy release of dead skin / now open mouth sucking earth 

i cannot smell the taste of blood on blade only that it dries and they wash to repeat but my frenulum is

forever cut / cut from the house of mouth 

upsetting an array of untouched teeth  

you cannot beg for ties meant to be untied only pray the other sun will come again to kiss my palate

before the molars are rotten  

tongue liberated 

oh look, a crumpled 

clothes hanger melting on

the ship sailing from the house of urinal without stalls  

if the tongue does not swirl nimbly without curse 

round rich and anglo-saxon

hammer the mouth straight 

i rather none than worse 

please rip away my last patch of living skin to

trim for aquiline lips

Helen is a Chinese-American writer studying the literary arts and mathematics at Columbia University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming at Susquehanna Review, 45th Parallel, Lumiere Review, Mitos Magazin, dreams walking, and others. In her free time, she is obsessively scouring for new music, books, Tumblr feeds, and food. She makes it her goal to be able to read her favorite translated works of literature in their original languages and to unravel the logic of the universe with math. Helen is currently a staff writer for Unpublished Magazine and Politically Invisible Asians. 

Artist Statement: “tongue/tied thoughts after ‘living english work’” was inspired by an image of a child undergoing tongue surgery in Min-Zhan Lu’s paper “Living English Work.” The image was black and white, low resolution. I think I saw a surgical knife cut through the plump lower lip of the child. The visceral pain inspired this piece. Exploring the nuanced relationship first-generation immigrants have with English is a thematic underpin for this piece. As the child undergoes a painful surgery to literally transform their tongue, the poem also attempts to capture the symbolism around this process: the hope to assimilate with perfect English, desire for legitimation, and the boundaries of hope.

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