Poetry Porch: Poetry


The Cracked Tongue

by Teresa Iverson

                                                       —for my brother,
                                                       and for my sisters

The child had begun writing a novel,
           that first fountaining.

Halfway down the second page—
                           already there’s dialogue—
she arrives at human gratitude:

“Thank you,” he said.
“Eu welcome.”

So she had heard, but now stops
puzzled. “How do you spell
Eu welcome?” she asks her mother
           chopping turnip greens in the kitchen,

“Why do you want to know?
What are you doing?”

“I’m writing a novel.”

                                 Some years before, the woman had bent herself
                                 on following the biblical command
                                 to marry, bear children, guide the house—,
                                 so she’d decided when there was no help
                                 in furthering her first desire.

Now she exclaims,
                           “You can’t write a novel!

“You have to know how to create
characters, you have to be able
to make a plot, and then—”
                           voice rising
in tricolonic crescendo, “then
you have to create a climax.”

                                 Later she will claim she wanted
                                 to prevent disappointment:
                                              The girl’s too young to reach
                                 so far so fast;

                                 but something uneasy stirs within her
                                 at her daughter’s words conceived
                                                                    from air:

“Besides,” she adds,
“there is only one inspired Word.

If only the child could see
what good will come even from this
and the credence of her mother’s
fear accords the brief exchange
surging up from an ocean inchoate
                                  of logos,
juxtaposing to it
the Word which, for them,
                           in its forming
breathed whole worlds into being.

But the child could not see,
                nor then disagree.

Not yet was seeing with her own eyes
enough, nor telling
                except in another tongue—:

her father’s first when sometimes
he spoke it at home,
or playing the piano sang songs
in a language they did not know
from a country he would never glimpse;

                           so that hearing
entered the inner ear’s
endless chambers,
                an ammonite’s maze
                           winding back on itself.

On the street where she played,
at school, down grocery store aisles
among brightly-labeled cans and jars,
her ears wakened to voices
of mothers coaxing children,
friends’ banter, babies babbling,

through that denser element
of tongues not her own, elusive—
Cajun French, Mexican Spanish, Texan—
she began to approach them,

as if they all inhabited
                an in-between zone,
or spoke walking
underwater, she among them,
like the town once down the coast, Sabine
                Pass, its houses built on stilts
submerged later by Gulf waves, under
                                   a hurricane.

Her speech became a surf shushing
              among seaweed, shells, sand,
through which swept clear sudden
storm surges, leveling walls
                                 of sound.

And hearing lent other voices
—of buying and selling,
                           tenderness, scolding, squabbles—
the sweetness of a life that for years
              she could not touch.

Eu welcome—

the child cannot know
what good will come from this
              for the maker.

Copyright © 2008 by Teresa Iverson.