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Before the war, my father slid shoehorns between the lips of discount loafers and socked heels.
If the shoe fits, so the story goes, the true identity of the cinder-shrouded girl is known.
Persephone swallowed the seeds and her mother bent fallowed.
My father's mother had nine mouths to feed, ten if she counted herself.
Cronus ate his first five kids and then a stone.
The memorial is cut from polished black granite and cuts into the earth.
My father's name is not cut into the stone but still I see my reflection in its surface.
I tell you, it says in the Book of Luke, if these remain silent, the stones would cry out.
My father used to have a mouth on him, but now he reads the Bible and doesn't cuss.
Soldiers in the trenches passed the time sucking on cigarettes and the occasional fruitcake from home until their mouths clouded with rot and they called this trench mouth.
The 56th Dental Detachment, Phu Bai Dental Clinic, was the name of my father's unit.
A dentist once said to Gloria Anzaldúa, We're going to have to do something about your tongue.
I inherited my father's gutter mouth, which is not the same as trench mouth.
Soldiers dug 25,000 miles of trenches along the Western Front.
The Viet Cong required North Vietnamese villagers to dig three feet of the Cu Chi Tunnels each day, and this is where they burrowed to escape the bombs bursting in air.
I once pulled myself out of a depression by swallowing herbs and walking each day down the thin slit that cut across the winter-stripped field.
Persephone pulled the narcissus from its root and the dark mouth sucked her down.
There is a photo of my father pulling a rotten tooth from the mouth of a Vietnamese boy.
The trenches would flood and the soldiers would stand for long stretches in the muck unable to remove their wet socks and boots and their feet would soften to rot and they called this trench foot.
I put my foot in my mouth nearly everyday.
Gloria Anzaldúa asks questions that are really refusals, How do you tame a wild tongue, how do you bridle and saddle it? How do you make it lie down?
In a 1969 photograph by Horst Faas, a young South Vietnamese woman covers her opened mouth as she stares into a mass grave where she fears her father's body lies.
Many mammals will eat the placenta of their newborns, but some Mexican women I know bury theirs near the hearth.
In 1967, Dang Thi Lanh sang and danced and cooked and crawled and dug with a short hoe and gave birth to her daughter in the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Cronus devoured his children and still his son came back and cast him down.
The soldiers would hump through the monsoon-soaked marsh until their feet bloomed with jungle rot.
My body and my father's body and Plath's body, Head-stone quiet, jostled by nothing / Only the mouth-hole piped out, / Importunate cricket // In a quarry of silences.
That time I put my foot in my mouth and asked my father what it was like over there.
My father has never eaten a pomegranate though he has spent time on the other side and its shadow darkens his return.
A mama bird will chew the worm and partially digest it before spitting it out into the mouth of her young and in this way the baby bird is fed.
My father in Phu Bai fingering the dark.
I am surprised sometimes by what comes out of my mouth, so I have to watch my tongue.
Those nights I watched my father's mouth when he dozed off in the recliner to make sure he didn't choke on his tongue during his nightly seizures.
Sometimes the rot was so far advanced they had to amputate the foot to save the man.
I try to swallow the truth but still, like Cronus, it comes out of my mouth anyway.
Yusef Komunyakaa returned from Vietnam and visited the memorial and wrote, I'm stone. I'm flesh.
As a defensive strategy, trenches followed a zigzag pattern and never a straight line.
Back home my father slips a hand under the lifted tongue and buffs the black leather until it shines with his reflection, and this is how he meets each week, emptied shoes laid out.
Deborah Paredez is the author of the poetry volume, This Side of Skin, and the critical study, Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory. She is co-founder and co-director of CantoMundo, a national organization for Latina/o poets. She lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing and ethnic studies at Columbia University.
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