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)