The orderly aisle: fettuccini, fusilli, rigatoni,
round, folded orecchietti, edible ears;
cappellini’s wispy strands, trumpets, wagon wheels, screws;
for white clam sauce,
I choose linguini.
In amphibia–the frog who nestles her filmy eggs
in your koi pond, the toad hunched among your hostas —
it is fixed at the front, free behind, the better
to dart forward, lick up mosquitoes, gnats,
curl itself around black flies. In the house sparrow
you overlook, searching
for finches, orioles, ladderback woodpeckers, it is pointed,
hard as a toenail. In anteaters it wriggles,
wormlike, burrowing toward lunch.
In humans it tapers, muscular, fleshy, permits us
to invent words: luculent, disciple, nocturnal, to label
our opponents taciturn.
Moses objected that his slow tongue
stumbled over strong words,
urged God to find another
prophet, but God
suggested Aaron speak
for Moses–Aaron, eloquent as a poet
though but a priest.
She sells seashells by the seashore.
The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.
For no good reason, I’m skeptical
of Pliny’s legend, gluttonous Romans
dining sumptuously on flamingo tongue.
I believe I’ve seen
colonies glide into brackish Florida estuaries,
dip their beaks, hunting, hunting.
Once I woke from a dream,
panicked shrimp roiling in my mouth, my lips
slick with brine. But didn’t I see
a creche of five thousand young, their plumage
deeply pink, their eager bills, though each
seems more impression than memory.
Haven’t we all seen rotting herds
shot from trains,
taken for their tongues alone? We shot
our ancestors’ guilt, yet every night our dreams
resound with the gavel’s bang.
Every gift of tongues
shall be accompanied
by the gift of interpretation.
Ancient bestiaries reveal how serpents
sting with their tongues’ fiery edge. A boy’s skin
burns, flame rippling up his forearm, the scar
crimson, undulant. Serpents
die ten thousand times but die finally
if a birthmarked girl drips her thimbleful
of blood outside its den.
Pentecost, the sanctuary swirled
with red–and–yellow banners as gossamer doves
swept over our heads. Veni Sancti Spiritus
we heard, each in our own language.
Weren’t we each lighted with fire, weren’t we each
burnt, consumed, our tongues
tongues of flame?
Today, English serves
as lingua franca for those who profess
a common language. I mention
Lake Michigan, remembering
its endless cool invitation, my urge
to drift, oblivious of shore or depth,
waves lifting my shoulders, then hips, my thighs,
currents tugging my body away, away, but you
grimace, for your brother
did drown, tempted by your dare:
dive right in. You imagined
his blond hair flashed red with blood
before the lake washed him clean.
Because your mother never speaks
his name, you whispered it once, then swore
me to silence.
Too often I’ve held my tongue, afraid,
aswarm with darkness. Here
are all the ways you could do it–No,
I won’t say it.
Medieval monks slept
in their coffins. Cash Bundren sawed
planks for his mother’s coffin, planed their edges
as Dewey Dell fanned flies from her face, and she lay
remembering why she named one son Jewel.
No one has written
why I followed a man I knew
only as Mr. Jewel into his barn,
how he pointed out the forged, square nails, each stall’s
tongue–and–groove construction, how the next day he looped
his rope over a weathered beam, climbed
onto a milk crate, kicked
When the man asked
to be cured of his faulty speech, Jesus
touched his tongue, pressing his calloused forefinger
against its fleshy center. The man felt
words well within him, words
of the law and prophets; he felt
creatures swirling in his mouth, and when he opened
his lips, they soared like doves, their soft feathers
brushing his neighbors’ ears, every word
perfectly clear and yet still
sounding like miracle, miracle, miracle.
Lynn Domina is the author of two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. Her work appears in the New England Review, Prarie Schooner, the Southern Review, the Valparaiso Poetry Review, and several other periodicals. She currently lives in the western Catskill region of New York.
“Linguistics” appears in our Spring 2012 issue.