Thursday, March 15, 2012

Notebook: Tongues

Winter quarter is pretty much over and I wanted to share some of the poems that I included in my final portfolio. This poem is called "Tongues" and if it's a little bewildering, don't worry! I think it's supposed to be. I'd love to hear what you think!


A coiled, yellow snake sleeps inside my mouth,
in the hollow back of my throat.

Sometimes it remembers,
somehow, the tropical, muggy mess
somewhere in the Pacific,
where the other serpents first articulated
their hisses.

Now, in this village of bleached bones,
the corpulent king in his opulent palace
of snake skeletons stacked seventy feet high,
insists that I sever my slithering Serpent-Tongue.
I hesitate.
Unaware of the unavoidable sacrifice,
my snake friend
flicks its forked tongue between my teeth.
In his groaning, grumbling tongue,
the king growls: “Your tongue
or your life.”
“My tongue is my life,” I defy.
His dark-eyed warriors jab my side
with their stone-and-bone spears.
“These,” the king gestures to the gathered village,
“are those who have sacrificed. See,
they still live.”
Ragged breath, bloody sides,
barbed wire manacles cutting my ankles and arms,
I relent. They cut me loose.
I coo my Serpent-Tongue out of hiding. They step back, awed.
But my snake friend knows once my fingers close around it.

It wriggles, fighting to free itself, fangs bared,
venomous enough to kill,
but I grasp it by the head
the jagged rock honed to a knife-edge.
Still jerking even as my primitive tool
smashes again
and again.
Its body limp and lifeless,
save for its tail tip twitching.
Its strong, sinuous muscles loosen.

I cradle its corpse like a careful curator
handling the fragile fossil
of Man’s most ancient ancestor.
The villagers gather around
as the king extends his hand,
waiting for me to surrender my offering –
They are silent,
the sibilant, jubilant songs of the Snake-Tongue
no longer on their lips.

Pale-faced, ashen-cheeked,
seeing a legend come alive,
they reach out as if to touch it.
Even the skin rough as sandstone
cannot convince them.
The king lifts the dead serpent in both hands,
raising it above his head,
ululating, shrieking.
The villagers join the conquering cry,
in their own mute way,
beating their chests and stamping their feet.

I am now
deaf to the serpent music,
the memory of it
like the distant scrape of scale on sand.

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