Native Tongue

Carlos Andrés Gómez

I went there to meet a man with
my father’s name. We sat,
flanked on all sides by other
awkwardly assembled pairs,
each obsessed with the shapes
of each other’s mouths and
the sounds they made. He grabbed
his crotch and slowly unfurled
a word I knew he had
been saving: espectacular.
That was the way he described
how he was in bed, taunting
and flirting while shaking his
head disapprovingly at the way
my tongue rolled an r like a mouth
anaesthetized by too much tequila,
my mind feeling familiar as the wide-
arched house we lived in when I was
five. I remember beating my open palm
on a screen that was nearly unhinged
by a burglar, or was that just a dream?
Sometimes I search for the exact day
I stopped dreaming in the language
that sings my name. What it felt like
to watch something slowly drift
away without knowing if it might
ever find its way back. I wonder if
I dreamt that night at all. He snapped
his fingers near my face, told me
I needed a lot of work. I’d been doing
this with him twice a week, an escape
from the life I’d built. So I relished
each clumsy syllable like a secret
I was finally being freed from,
trying to learn something from a man
with the same name as the one who
worked so hard to rid me of it.

Carlos Andrés Gómez is a Colombian American poet from New York City. His debut collection, Fractures, won the 2019–2020 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and will be released in the fall of 2020.
Originally published:
April 1, 2020


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