SPEAKING IN TONGUES
(Beginning with a line by Marjorie Sadin)
The river is speaking in Yiddish:
it pushes along, throwing up hands
in Levantine gestures, muttering
fishmonger curses under its breath.
A turnip should grow in your belly,
it says. Put your butt on the table --
meaning talk straight, no fancy words here.
Now it’s high-collared Russian -- opaque
and moody, sideslipping rocks
like live carp flopped from carts. Bread,
it whispers through a cut overhung
by black pines shedding needles.
Eat bread and salt, and speak what is truth.
Surging towards delta, it shape-shifts to
Balkan – dividing, submerging; raising
islands from voids. Beware, it implies,
proud as Cossacks on horseback:
unreasoned destruction is mine to unsheathe.
My grandmother, dying, said, Who will
now save me. Though eighty years gone then
her tones were Carpathian, their notes
shawled signals of doom.
My father age thirteen learned crabbed
Aramaic for part of the service
declaring him grown. Those tropes
still resounded when we laid him down.
Silted with pasts, we channel
banked ways – half-translated phrases
that echo lost days.
From Falcons (2020); version first published in The Federal Poet, Vol. LXXIV No. 2 (Fall 2018)