Vinegar by Peg Duthie


The screen shows me “cù,”
which my Pinyin-resistant eyes
insist on reading as “coo.”
I press a button. “Tsooh!”
the recording declares, the voice
bright as the mirror I scrubbed this morning
with yesterday’s paper, marveling yet again
at how its letters did not melt
from paper to glass. My brain

is as stubborn as a mirror, refusing
to hold the Mandarin words
I’ve tried to imprint on it,
to wear the language of my eyes
as easily as a scarf or a tan.
But sometimes a syllable
swims out from the past—
my mother saying “tsoh”
while cooking supper.

Who knows which accent
coated her rendition—
Tainan Hokkien,
peasant Mandarin,
cradle Japanese
or off-the-plane in-jokes?

It’s all in the hotpot—
this life of letting things simmer
before I speak. Of knowing how truth
is so often sensed as sour or harsh
and yet so utterly necessary.

by Peg Duthie

Twitter: @zirconium
Instagram: @zrpeg

Editor’s Note: This poem’s imagery is lightly applied, but skillfully utilized as it ushers the reader from one thing (learning a language) to another (a realization).


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