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.
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—”
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
“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
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
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
Her speech became a surf shushing
among seaweed, shells, sand,
through which swept clear sudden
storm surges, leveling walls
And hearing lent other voices
—of buying and selling,
tenderness, scolding, squabbles—
the sweetness of a life that for years
she could not touch.
the child cannot know
what good will come from this
for the maker.
Copyright © 2008 by Teresa Iverson.