On Saturdays, my tongue is naked.
It tastes like ropa vieja y cafe,
Sips malta goya,
Sits in the back of my mouth and relaxes, ignores the s’s in spanish sentences,
Tastes like the chitterlings my grandma makes,
With extra hot sauce.
Tastes like hot cheetos and takis,
And stains red.
On Saturdays, my tongue sings Celia Cruz,
My tongue dances over every syllable to the rap songs on the radio
Without fear or the restriction of any stereotype
White dress left hanging in my closet
Chants zúmbale mambo pa’ que mis gatas prendan los motores,
Without tripping over tricky lace.
And dances to R&B, and to alternative like Nao, and to soul.
My tongue moves fast and flips around a new facet of me.
Naked, it rediscovers what it’s like to be heard in my own language,
What it’s like not to have to preface my own words with intonation
What it’s like to prove nothing and say everything
My tongue is multidimensional, fast-moving, and unmasked on Saturdays.
On Sundays, my tongue wears black.
Mourning the now-dead nakedness that it wants back.
It knows what we must do tomorrow.
On weekday mornings, I squeeze my tongue in a white dress,
Pull a veil down over the tip of it, a mask over my language,
That when I talk drapes out of my mouth to floor.
Throughout the day my tongue is married to my private school.
Tied up in matrimony and faithful commitment to the culture there.
Committed, in fear, to the concept of being well-spoken.
Tongue tangled up in all this white and they call me articulate.
When I talk, I taste the weekday worn clothes and they feel foreign against the roof of my mouth.
Mother always taught me to dress appropriately.
Even when nobody else’s tongues are clothed.
My peers introduce themselves with Hermes bracelets and Balenciaga shoes,
They say their greetings in skin, and say goodbye in material items they leave behind and never come back for.
Generational wealth follows them into each educational space they enter
And I am left with my tongue all dressed up trying to haggle down the difference.
Our relationships are founded in my tongue’s fidelity
But there’s clothes in the way.
It’s hard to be understood when you’re talking through thread.
Etymology is lost in translation,
And connections get lost in this dress.
I was just supposed to be another brown body,
Now I’m waving my tongue’s marriage certificate as if it can prove my intellect,
To people who don’t believe it exists, and to people with whom I can’t connect,
But when I said my vows I knew the newlywed specials in life that come from this white dress.
Ambition walked me down the aisle, knowing that this wedding was the only way to success.
Tongue tangled head to toe in total white and they call me articulate.
My use of naked tongue can never be appropriate.
Is always rude.
I know that being black means existing as two.
I know that wearing this dress is something I must do and so I do it.
And wait for that feeling of freedom that I get on Saturday mornings and relinquish Sunday
*”Tongue-Tied” was previously published in Park Tudor’s literary and art magazine, The Artisan, as well as The Best Teen Writing of 2019, a Scholastic Arts and Writing national chapbook.
Alyssa Gaines is a poet, writer & photographer. She is the 15-year-old Youth Poet Laureate of the city of Indianapolis. She has been writing spoken word poetry since she was in the third grade, and she seeks to use her art as a vehicle for political & personal change.