How to Curse in Mandarin | Teen Ink

How to Curse in Mandarin

May 31, 2019
By jl637 DIAMOND, Livingston, New Jersey
jl637 DIAMOND, Livingston, New Jersey
72 articles 0 photos 16 comments

When you were ten, you murdered your own mother.

Swallowed your native tongue to make room


for a whiter mouth. A softer accent. Your father

cursed at you in a language that was no longer yours,


emphasizing the knuckled punch of every syllable --

huài dàn. You asked him what that word meant,


and he shook his head as if he no longer recognized

his own son. Stupid boy. You laughed,


stared mockingly at the kerosene in his eyes—

twin fires that you, a careless arsonist,


had set alight. And now, sitting by your

grandfather’s deathbed, his hands folded


like crumpled origami over your smooth palms,

you find the words you do not know how to say


choking your throat like the tubes

hooked to your grandfather’s paper-thin skin.


You watch like a foreigner within your own family

as your grandmother cries into the hospital sheets


while her husband fades slowly into past tense.

And you might not have known what huài dàn meant


when it exited your father’s lips like a bullet wound

all those years ago, but as your mouth


glues itself closed

with the bones of a language


you had slaughtered, unable to form the word

sorry or I miss him too,


you know what it means now.

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