by Denice Frohman

my mom holds her accent like a shotgun
with two good hands

her tongue
all brass knuckle
her hips, are all laughter and wind clap

she speaks a sanchocho of spanish and english,
pushing up and against one another in rapid fire

there is no tellin’ my mama to be “quiet,”
my mama don’t know “quiet”

her voice is one size
better fit all and you best not
tell her to hush, she waited
too many years for her voice to arrive
to be told it needed house-keeping.

english sits in her mouth remixed
so “strawberry” becomes “eh-strawbeddy”
and “cookie” becomes “eh-cookie”
and kitchen, key chain, and chicken
all sound the same.

my mama doesn’t say “yes”
she says, “ah ha”
and suddenly
the sky in her mouth
becomes Hector Lavoe song.

her tongue
can’t lay itself down
flat enough
for the english language.

it got too much hip,
too much bone,
too much conga,
too much cuatro
to two step,
got too many piano keys
in between her teeth
it got too much clave
too much hand clap,
got too much salsa to sit still

it be an anxious child wanting
to make Play-Doh
out of concrete, english
be too neat for
her kind of wonderful

her words spill in conversation
between women whose hands are all they got
sometimes our hands are all we got,
and accents that remind us
that we are still bomba, still plena

say, “wepa!”
and a stranger becomes your hermano,
say, “dale!”
and a crowd becomes a family reunion.

my mama’s tongue is a telegram from her mother
decorated with the coqui’s of el campo,

so even when her lips can barely
stretch themselves around english,
her accent
is a stubborn compass
always pointing her
towards home…

photo by Corey McDonough

Denice Frohman is an award-winning poet, writer, performer, and educator. She is the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, 2014 CantoMundo Fellow, and 2012 Leeway Transformation Award recipient. Her work has appeared in ESPN, the Huffington Post, and Jotas: An Anthology of Queer Latina Voices. Her poem “Dear Straight People” went viral with over 2 million views. She’s worked with over 200 colleges and universities; hundreds of high schools and cultural arts spaces; and performed at The White House in 2016. She is also one of the organizers at The Philly Youth Poetry Movement.