At the start of the poem, the speaker addresses someone (a “you”) who has asked her “what [she] mean[s]” when she says she has “lost [her] tongue.” The word “tongue” is often used to stand in for language, since people use their tongues and mouths to shape words. Here, the speaker uses the word “tongue” in this way—as a metonym for language itself. What the speaker means here, then, is that she has said she has lost her own language, and someone has asked her what she means by this.
Yet as the poem goes on, the speaker makes this metonym more literal: “I ask you,” she says, “what would you do / if you had two tongues in your mouth.” In these lines, the speaker asks both the “you” she addresses, as well as the reader, to imagine what it would be like to literally have two tongues, and how difficult it would be to speak.
At the level of sound, these lines replicate some of this difficulty: the alliteration of /w/ sounds in “what would” and /t/ sounds in “two tongues” create a kind of tongue twister. At the same time, the assonance in “you,” “two,” and “do” emphasizes the speaker’s address to the “you,” asking this “you” and the reader to imagine what she describes.
This opening of the poem can be read as establishing its primary conflict, as the speaker describes what it is like to have to live with “two tongues” or two languages. The lines themselves enact this duality in a number of ways. First, the repetition of “tongue” (which appears in its second iteration as “tongues”) as well as “you” and “I” calls attention to the fact that the speaker must deal with having “two tongues.” It also suggests that there is a kind of gap or misunderstanding between the “you” on the one hand and the “I” on the other, as though the speaker’s experience isn’t fully seen or understood by the person she addresses.
Additionally, the lines alternate between instances of enjambment ("mean / by"; "do / if") and end-stopped lines. This alternation builds a kind of tension and back-and-forth into the poem at the outset, implying that the speaker’s internal experience, too, is one of tension and inner conflict.