Time for an in-progress post! If you have a strong opinion on which one I should continue, leave it in the comment section!
The Airedales, Sailor and Caesar, were descendants of show dogs with black and caramel hair that kinked close to their skin like the wooly surface of every rug in every basement rec room I have ever seen. The grace of their parents, who lay in feather beds beneath the mantle of Kennel Club trophies, was confined to their ability to catch the far leaping cave crickets that dwelled in the basement. I witnessed Sailor and Caesar team up against the pests and use each other as tables to balance their front paws, lift themselves in the air to catch a cricket in mid leap. Like two friends playing leapfrog, but with more accuracy and patience. Their old, regal parents would later be burned to ash, held in Faberge style urns that glittered beside the golden trophies, holding up the photos of normal looking dogs with winsome coats playing in the yard.
I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. If I close them again, will I see the same flock of birds? Will I see the same number of birds? The image in my head is neither fixed nor fluid, it is the same image yet I do not trust it not to change. I close my eyes again and again, seeing the same flock of birds and seeing a different flock each time, start off in the bare winter tree and take off to the right against the cloudy sky, the faintest color of lavender.
A tongue came through town with a traveling parade of spectacles. Gypsies, my mother scoffed and waved at the word like it were a bird come in through the flue. She wiped the sweat off her temple with the butt of her palm and told me to go if I really wanted to. The heat stuck on her skin and lingered in the air of the house, where the smells of our combined sweat held still in the windless summer. I could still hear the kitchen radio as I left our yard to see the tongue: And over the course of several days, we had collected thousands of rattlesnakes, weighing together about a ton. Take this moment to imagine what that sounds like—one ton of angry rattlesnakes all writing together in our bags. The program faded into a rattling static as a cloud moved to cover the sky.The gypsies brought wagons and tents made of rich cloth, designed in busy cosmic patterns and repeating images of naked women. We had heard the main attraction was not the great tusks of the fabled white elephant, nor the woman who could play a violin with so much heartbreak, the instrument itself wept. None came to see these as much as they came for a tongue, about six inches long, floating in a glass mouth. Although the show had only just arrived in town, the ground was worn with dusty paths and trails leading up to the tents. The grass flattened out beneath each ware-scattered rug, lit by lanterns shaped like stars. Women in loose skirts lifted up handfuls of brass figures bearing the image of a god I did not recognize. Men lounged against their tired dogs in the midmorning heat, each one giving off the distinct odor of oranges and tobacco. I followed the worn trail to the tent of the tongue and fell into the long line of hopeful observers. The jar was designed for the attraction by the glassblowing widows several towns over, who treated the material with love and ease so that the mouth-shaped jar, as it emerged from the hot flames, blew a kiss. The widows, their lives independent of crushing male rule, melted like the heated glass when it expressed to them this kind of love. Beyond the charm and whimsy of the jar, the story of the tongue itself was what captivated the audience. It belonged to a sailor of the seas, a lover of women and treasure alike. On a meeting with a Persian lord, the sailor let slip some snide observation and had this most vital muscle of the mouth taken clean out with his own blade. At the base of the muscle, I looked so close I thought I could see the ripped edges where the knife, at one time the sharpest blade in the boat, was perhaps neglected for several days and had gone a bit dull. Gone were the days—I heard outside the tent by the traveling story tellers—of the swarthy sailor’s charm, his tricks, and his humor. His favorite way to please women was through that vital instrument, whether through serenading tales of treasure and adventure or as he dove to part the hair between their legs and lick as if extracting honey from a freshly baked roll. Gone were his feasts of fish—bones and all—the ink-stained potato and squid in tough bows of pasta. The lord that stole his tongue removed not only the cruelties a man could do with just one muscle, but he stole the essence of the man with it. No more would it spit in the eyes of his crew. No longer would it curl around crystals of salt on the posts once the ocean spray had dried. No more would it mutter in the dark the early childhood songs from school, oh which weather would you rather skip along to my dear? We could bury the day or we could run away together through rain or through sun, as the boat rocked and daybreak was a skid in the heavy ocean clouds. I stared at the muscle, looking tip to base as close as I could to try and see beyond the tongue, into the language of the sailor—foreign to my own, into the warm wet crevasses of a woman’s sex—also unknown to me. I wanted to walk barefoot up and down the tongue until I understood exactly the taste of something sweet after tasting the salt of the ocean for so long. I wanted to feel the surprise of my wit in a room full of men, who laugh and slap me on the back and spit out their drinks on the table. I wanted to feel the dense flattening of those muscles beyond my teeth when someone told me I could not have what I arrived for, and taste the irony specks of blood that came from inside my mouth when I took a bite to the cheek. Indeed, the man lost everything. I paid to see the spectacle over and over. Every time I got back in line, I fidgeted and inched until I was back in front, facing the tongue, absorbed in its wonderment, until I was nudged aside by the people behind me, waiting their turn to understand what kind of dishonor would cause a person to lose this important tool.