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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, December 27, 2016.
About this Poem 

“‘Music from Childhood’ is a pantoum, which refers to the fact that I grew up in a household in which two languages were spoken. The repetition—and the fact that every line is repeated—seemed appropriate to the subject.”
—John Yau

Music from Childhood

You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits
Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”

You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths
A row of yellow windows and a painting of them

Your mother informs you “moon” means “window to another world.”
You decide it is better to step back and sit in the shadows

A row of yellow windows and a painting of them
Someone said you can see a blue pagoda or a red rocket ship

You decide it is better to step back and sit in the shadows
Is it because you saw a black asteroid fly past your window

Someone said you can see a blue pagoda or a red rocket ship
I tried to follow in your footsteps, but they turned to water

Is it because I saw a black asteroid fly past my window
The air hums—a circus performer riding a bicycle towards the ceiling

I tried to follow in your footsteps, but they turned to water
The town has started sinking back into its commercial

The air hums—a circus performer riding a bicycle towards the ceiling
You grow up hearing two languages. Neither fits your fits

The town has started sinking back into its commercial
You begin to hear words mourn the sounds buried inside their mouths
 

Copyright © 2016 by John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by John Yau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

John Yau

John Yau

Art critic, essayist, poet, and prose writer John Yau teaches at Rutgers University.

by this poet

poem
It is said, the past
sticks to the present

like glue,
that we are flies

struggling to pull free
It is said, someone

cannot change
the clothes

in which
their soul

was born.
I, however,

would not
go so far

Nor am I Rembrandt,
master of the black

and green darkness,
the hawk's plumes

as it shrieks
down