Home > Poetry > Glossolalia
Published: Sat Jul 1 2006
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.

Speaking in tongues:

Speaking of tongues, two cups of vodka and a bit of lime loosened mine, or else your piano playing, chord striking chord, with thick elegant fingers—so much more to the flight than you allow, still you’re backed by clouds while I go down, am saved, born again, delivered whole into your arms, the baby you never wanted.

The ecstatic utterance

But I’m given blanket and bear, a better mother this time. And all this sobbing is enough to drown the swarm of bees raging on your sofa—a period piece, come over on the Mayflower. And you, with sugar on the finger, a bit of sweet stuck to your thumb, imagine perhaps the making of a queen, the way she’s fed by her nurses, royal jelly slathered from the tops of their heads.

Of emotionally agitated religious persons,

And sometimes walls will leak honey, when nests are built in the wrong places, and sometimes such sweetness is discouraged, and all that building is for nothing. And the color of that pillow: pink like flesh, yellow like mango, Turkish and plodding and not at all right. And the color of that carpet: kaleidoscope split open, the bellies of thirty-six Christmases emptied onto the floor. And the spider from the schizophrenic’s head, the one we spoke of earlier (in careful humanistic tones) that very same spider has climbed in through my eye, that very same one, or one like those under the docks at your French-Canadian lake.

A jumble of disjointed unintelligible sounds,

And though I’ve memorized sacraments, can mouth beatitudes and novenas, know all about ashes and oil and last-minute mass cards, with you I become Huguenot before the Holy Roman See—with you, I become Protestant, honeycombed cells, spiders falling from my tongue. And this, my last minute song. And this, trying to speak everything into the space before the blade takes me down, God’s breath moving like an insect in my ear.

Those who speak believe their voices moved by the spirit

I drink and weep, laugh and make fire, fall and talk crazy, like St. Paul said to do. And that Paul knew a thing or two. And so do you. But no amount of sugar or fine-fingered playing can make girl into queen once she’s been born; it’s in the womb that the structure is set. It’s before the breathing’s begun that anyone has half a chance. After that, all thrones are spoken for. After that, it’s all tears and trying.

In words unfettered by reason or rule.

Sonja Livingston has received an AWP Award in Nonfiction, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, an Iowa Award, and grants from the Deming Fund and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, AGNI Online, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, and The Cream City Review. A book of nonfiction, Ghostbread, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press. She holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and teaches in UCLA Extension’s Writing Program. (updated 6/2009)

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