200 Words for Snow

I called you Ima (Hebrew) and not Ina (Tagalog)

when I was small and

I looked to the sky, but you had me look down at my fingers and toes

because God was everywhere.

Mother, it was what you wanted.

 

You never wore sunscreen when you were growing up

and your skin grew brown and tough-

later on you would try to shed it so hard

that you would sweat beads, breaking from your necklace,

flinging themselves at studio mirrors and broken barres.

You never wore sunglasses either

and so your eyes would seep pink from your dark irises

but you were okay with that because you looked up at the sky

and knew that somewhere beyond it was

America where it snows.

 

I called her Lola (Tagalog) and not Grandma (English)

when I was small but

to you, she had always been the white return address label

on the miniature cereal boxes

you kept for months

in the pantry  the termites had already claimed.

The postman-smudged typewriter ink 

told you she was a doctor

and your Lola told you she was your

Ina.

 

You called them “dedets” (unknown) and not “dedes”  (Tagalog)

to me, because I could not pronounce the hardness of the “e”

and you marveled as I stumbled, glossy-eyed.

Our word, our own word!

But the palm trees littering the long dirt roads and

malaria-infested hills

shrunk to the little sprigs of bamboo we kept in jars on the windowsill

and when I began to grow dedets and could see them

glaring at me in the mirror, I was reminded

my vocabulary was short a word.

 

You say “be-emet” (Hebrew) and not “naman” (Tagalog)

after your sentences and

bless me every Friday night with words

you promise are those of your people.

 

Arielle Korman
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School
Silver Key

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