Speaking in Tongues


It is Pentecost and I hear
all the beautiful ruined voices I’ve loved –
an old preacher
cracking the gospel open
in some dusty July tent, and
a blues singer in a cheap bar
belting her untrained
red throat of heart,
a Manhattan steel girder Mohawk
in November wind,
a Kansas gandy dancer,
and a Minnesota carnival barker,
selling the sideshow.

Pipe-smoking, porch-sitting
down south voices
rock the hot night with fire flies,
and cigar-smoking poker game
Chicago back room voices,
draw a flush in the dawn.
A fisherman from Gloucester,
lips split with salt,
whispers to the ghost of a fisherman
from Gloucester,
or maybe Nantucket.

A power company lineman from
Aroostook County,
drags frost down his lungs,
and a firefighter, from anywhere
sucks house-burn,
while a second rate actor
tries to set some sad-assed
audience on fire.

The man who needs spare change,
hums and whistles
from his tracheotomy hole
like whale song,
and a blue haired organist,
one hand on the keyboard,
one cueing sopranos as old as she,
sings the tenor line alone.

Almost anyone who has
spent too many storms
in a lighthouse or a cloister
has a  Pentecost voice,
beautiful, gravely
crone voice,
more texture than timbre –
cursing and crying,
gambling on lies and prayers,
and talking in the dark.

Pentecost isn’t so much about
speaking foreign words
as trusting a voice,
you don’t understand,
maybe even your own voice,
and listening
to the crazy vocal
orchestration and defoliation
of the Holy Spirit.

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2 Responses to Speaking in Tongues

  1. Jan Fairchild says:


  2. Marjorie says:

    Wow! Many voices – some smoke, some fire!

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