Mother Tongue (Beau Bassin-Rose Hill)

by Katrina Bell

There is a little girl, on a flowered hill,
who you can no longer speak to

because you, the third of four, were too little
to fill the body of water

that welled between mothers
and satellites
and empresses that made you sign away

her left hand with your right,
blow her into glass

and paper to stay the shore
that remained unburnt.

But still I heard her
five decades later,

in another country that
sugared words down your throat,

my proud number crumbled under
a mother tongue,

just like they said it would
just like they said she shouldn’t

and called in sisters
to transcribe her wrongs

rend her out of
the whiplash between seas

and eyes meaning you
to be bloodless

So you might stand before us
and claim you cannot speak

while the basin of your mouth overflows
water from two islands, fluent

like those measures of hands and fragrance
in the half focus

behind our words, in the kitchen
as you come to

make something
that she would know

to be home.

©Katrina Bell, 2022

This poem was longlisted as part of the Spectrum: Poetry Celebrating Identity project. Click here to find out more about the project, and other poems on the longlist here.


The concept of identity – be it class, gender, sexuality, national, institutional, or anything else we define ourselves by – has gone through radical change over the past half-century, and the idea of definition by binary oppositions is no longer as relevant as it once was.

Spectrum is a poetry anthology that seeks to amplify marginalised voices, and to celebrate the great diversity and rich variation in the identities of people from around the world and from a huge cross-section of walks of life.

Click here for the anthology of shortlisted poems.