Image by Martin Figura

Speaking in Tongues

Kei Miller


Speaking in Tongues

Kei Miller


Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues

This poem begins in 1987.
My grandmother dragged us to meet the Lord
under a tent in St. Catherine. From here
I trace the heritage of standing spellbound
as women worship. Always I am on the outskirts.
I remember my grandmother unbecoming
the kind of woman who sets her table each Sunday,
who walks up from the river, water balanced easily
on her head. My grandmother became, instead,
all earthquake - tilt and twirl and spin,
her orchid-purple skirt blossoming.
She became grunt and rumble - sounds
you can only make when your shoes have fallen off
and you're on the ground
crying raba and yashundai, robosei and
bababababababba. Years later a friend tells me
tongues is nothing but gibberish - the deluded
pulling words out of dust. I want to ask him
what is language but a sound we christen?
I would invite him to a tent where women
are tearing their stockings, are on the ground
pulling up fresh words to offer as doves to Jehovah.
I would ask if he sees no meaning here
and if he never had the urge to grunt
an entirely new sound. The poem, always,
would like to do this, always wants to break
from its lines and let a strange language rise up.
Each poem is waiting on its own Day of Pentecost
to thrash, to robosei and yashundai,
and the poem will not care that some walk past,
afraid of the words we try out on our tongues
hoping this finally is the language of God,
that he might hear it and respond.


'Speaking in Tongues' from There is an Anger That Moves (Carcanet Press, 2007), © Kei Miller 2007, used by permission of the author.

Recordings

Kei Miller Reading from His Poems

1“This is an apology…”

2Noctiphobia

3A Who She Sammy Dead?

4From the ‘Church Women’ sequence: Uphill; Shouting;War Dance; Mourning; Marching

5Speaking in Tongues

6The Lost Prophecy of Alexander Bedward

7Some Definitions for Song

8Some Definitions for Light

9From the Sequence In This Country: i How we became the pirates; ii After all you do not know; iii Always under your breath; iv The only thing far away; v Your dance is like a cure

10The Broken

11What the evangelist should have said

12The Silent Things

13In praise of the revolutionary properties of ice cream, but in particular, the flavour Chunky Monkey

14In Praise of the Contribution of Pots

15An Allowance for Ula-May

16The Death of a Fish Woman