Donna Prinzmetal – Mother Tongue

Prinzmetal profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.

Donna Prinzmetal is a poet, psychotherapist and teacher. She has taught poetry and creative writing for more than 30 years to adults and children. Her poems have appeared in many magazines including Prairie SchoonerThe Comstock ReviewThe Journal and Verseweavers. Her first book, Snow White, When No One Was Looking, was published with CW Books in May of 2014. She is the recent recipient of the 2020 Lois Cranston Prize from Calyx Journal.

Mother Tongue

I want to speak the language of shells,
their pink emptiness, held
between dark and light.

In the afterbirth of morning
when I am alone, I begin to vanish.
I invite my mother’s ghost

into a house we never had.
Like a dream, there is a kitchen window
and a field of dahlias.

She says believe in the space between
the carapace and the body.
We are on the balcony looking

out at the sea, which isn’t a sea.
If I had more hands
they would all hold hers.

But I have swallowed so much light
I have become unbodied.
How will I find my way?

The nautilus chambers have labeled corridors.
I ask my mother which hallway says sadness,
which one says hold me.

When she doesn’t answer, I curl
my whole self into an empty chamber.
My heart, like a hermit crab

searches for a new home.

Elementary Art

April, 1962

“Why is your tree blue?”
my teacher thundered,
“with purple leaves?! Trees are green.
Skies are blue.”
My father painted
burning landscapes of color,
and a woman with long black hair
whose skin was an amethyst purple.
I tried to tell her, but the words
stayed caught in my mouth
behind the bars of my tiny teeth.
I could feel the prisoners, all the words
caught in my mouth.
I tried to tell her about the deep purple skin,
the woman with a river of black hair,
every burning landscape in my father’s painting.
Skies are not always blue,
trees are not just green, purple
is a good color for leaves, a tree
can be bluer than the sky.” 
In Kindergarten, my teacher thundered
“Why is your tree blue?”


After sleep ran away like a startled horse
leaving hoof prints in snow
most days back then I lived in a jazz sadness
after the bees stopped buzzing the lavender
after language forgot itself
I didn’t understand words
the not emptiness of them
after I joined the universe of untouched things
there was a vertigo of backwards glances
after the shimmer of polka dot dresses in the sun
a ceremony had begun
oh the suddenness
the serendipity of lost objects returning
after nakedness
after shells
after the mosaic spilled its cargo
who was there
febrile and vanishing
after the mingle
the letting go
hiding in a tangle of sheets
my burning my lover my shadow
we had stopped telling the world anything

who would listen anyway
after we forgot our own names?

© Donna Prinzmetal