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Homeland of the Foreign Tongue

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Each morning we begin again. My wife
wakes me with a shove, and condescends to try
her sorry Deutsch with me; she’s chewing mud.
God, she’s dumb. I tell her so, but mostly
in a dialect she never understands.
Carefully now, she mouths her thanks and takes me

by the hand to the dampness of the trough,
where she leaves me throwing water on my face.
I wash those parts I want to wash, begin
my bump along the wall to the sour kitchen,
where coffee waits and something tasteless chills
against the plate. Grace is blind, and probably

deaf as well, happens only where angels
let it—nowhere you’ll ever find in time.
I’ve never seen the woman’s face, though once,
too far from here to count for much, I wished I could.
But it’s morning come again, and she,
as is her habit, begins to sing above the soup.

Somewhere, some angel pities me, as God
must once have pitied her: Her voice forgets
its tenement, and I neglect the words.

Scott Cairns, “Homeland of the Foreign Tongue” from The Translation of Babel (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1990). Copyright © 1990 by Scott Cairns. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: The Translation of Babel (University of Georgia Press, 1990)
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Homeland of the Foreign Tongue

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