November Poetry: “’Lost’ first language leaves permanent mark on the brain, new study reveals” by Tiana Nobile

Curated as part of the Adoptee Poetry Folio by Guest Editor Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
November 9, 2017

This November, to recognize and honor National Adoption Awareness Month, I've invited adoptee poet Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello to curate a folio of poems by 10 Asian American adoptees. This page features Tiana Nobile’s “’Lost’ first language leaves permanent mark on the brain, new study reveals.” I invite you to take a moment to read her moving introduction to the folio here, as well as the other nine poems in this collection.

— Eugenia Leigh, Poetry Editor

'Lost' first language leaves permanent mark on the brain, new study reveals

To experience the world muffled
through the wall of skin
is like wearing earmuffs
while deep sea diving,
but the echoes of the dark exterior
still manage to pierce you.
Cacophony of whalesong
and sunken earthquakes,
tonal pitches seep in.


How do I translate
the sound of my mother's
moaning? It's a soft wail
I hang on the wall
of my windpipe.


They say the circulatory system
is the first to develop
in an embryo.

That the body generates cells
to divide and multiply, to form
a swelling ball.

That your blood weaved and whirled
to become my blood.

Who was the first you told?


At week eleven, fingernails begin to appear.
I bet you didn't know that nails
are made of dead blood cells.
How something could grow inside you
that's both alive and dead.


Once I learned how to talk, I did not
stop. I drew blood and licked my teeth
with language, English spilling down my chin.
Later, I learned how words can wound
without touching, and I tucked myself
in a bed of silence. In the garden of my body,
a bud began to sprout in my throat.


This piece was published as part of the November Adoptee Literature Folio. To see other works from the folio, please visit the table of contents here.



Tiana Nobile

Tiana Nobile is the author of Cleave (Hub City Press, 2021). She is a Korean American adoptee, Kundiman fellow, and recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award. A finalist of the National Poetry Series and Kundiman Poetry Prize, her writing has appeared in Poetry NorthwestThe New RepublicGuernica, and Southern Cultures, among others. She lives in Bulbancha, aka New Orleans, Louisiana. For more, visit