by Judith Skillman
Nights they served tongue I kept to myself,
nothing unusual for a bookworm. Sat at the table,
saw circlets of lace crocheted together by the hook,
once tucked away in a purse. Nights I didn’t eat tongue
the sauce seemed thicker, creamy, at least a pound of butter
stirred into the roux. But nights they served the calves’ tongue
I kept my thoughts inside my head where they rightly
belonged, or so I thought, until a knife
came from the sideboard, and someone’s hand on it,
and then the slivers falling away, smaller at the tip
of the tongue, thicker as the middle got past or was gotten past.
Then the old stories began to be told again,
as if it weren’t tongue being served but some other organ—
the liver, the heart, the pipicles, which were, as we knew
the chicken’s belly buttons and therefore special
as they floated like little dicks to the top of the soup.
Mostly we knew nothing, as all children know. Only
how to laugh, get tickled, go under the table
if such a rouse became necessary. Our hiding places
included closets, rooms behind rooms, rooms above rooms,
and the attic where the wasps lived in the wall.
We could feel them by putting our hands
against their nest—large as a bay of hale. 10,000 strong.
Stingers singing, bodies buzzing with electricity.