THE ELEGANT TONGUE

TERRANCE HAYES

It’s Yoyo who says Tonguing, a form of kissing
favored among the half-lit young, is mostly overrated
and rarely practiced among married folk like us,
but we give it a try, clumsy as two elephants swapping
gin-tinged saliva Friday night to prove the idea
is always better than the act, and since I am wistful
as the blind old lumberjack who touched the elephant’s knee
and fumbling for his ax declared, this animal is most like a tree,
I remember my tongue sandpapered against vowels in a mouth
named Yolanda in the dark of a yellow bus long ago,
and I tell Yoyo how that girl may still be somewhere thinking fondly
of our tangle. Forgive me: I believe, as the elephant must,
that everything is punctured by the tusks of Nostalgia.
They use those things to uproot roots, but let’s never forget
the old blind warrior who touched the elephant’s tusk
and said, This thing is most like a spear, and took it as a sign
that Man should spend his life defending his house,
and though he probably wasn’t wrong, it’s the best intentions
that turn need into want, which is another way of saying
the tongue is mostly disgust coated in desire,
or desire coated in disgust depending on the way you look.
My tongue is unusually short, but I’m happy to say
Yoyo prefers my lips. If you are not an elephant more adept
at using your trunk than your tongue, you cannot wrestle,
nor caress, nor blow water into the air white your kiss
is being chewed in a dining room beside a houseplant
called The Mother-in-Law’s Tongue because of its sword-shaped
leaves or perhaps because it has no mind for boundaries,
though boundaries too are a matter of the way you look.
The African elephant, for example, can be found in countries
like Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya,
Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa,
and Zimbabwe, and that must mean a tongue knows
nothing about territory. It’s a spit of land, a promontory.
Remember the blind prisoner who touched the elephant’s flank
and said, This creature is most like a wall, and believed it
meant all the world must be a jail? Some say it’s mostly walls
that constitute a marriage, and in many ways that may be true,
since Yoyo will not divulge the slip and slither administered once
by a boy plucked from the pews of her serious Pentecostal history,
which I know featured a perspiring, eye-tossing glossolalist
mouthing things only the faithful could decipher so that Fuck
might be translated as the sound at the beginning
of Forgiveness, and the hands of the white-bloused ladies,
her momma among them, patting the convulser’s shoulders,
might be said to emulate several vibrating reeds.
I’m talking about the rapture of tongues. The Holy Rollers
say it’s most like a flame in the devil’s blackout
because in Acts, tongues of fire are said to alight on the apostles,
filling them with the Holy Spirit and allowing them to speak
in a language understood by foreigners from several countries.
Darling, kiss me again in the nastiest possible way.
When the blind fondle the elephant’s trunk, an organ
of fifteen thousand miraculous multipurpose muscles, and hiss,
This creature is most like the serpent in Eden,
tell them, If there is goodness in your heart, it will come
to your mouth
, and if that doesn’t work, tell them,
In the dark its not the forked tongue that does the piercing.

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