Special Guides » The Poetry Issue

Sestina in Tongues

by

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It took me years and guts to drop the fear
of hell and holy. I was surprised to find
the very freedom we had looked for in the light,
in songs of gold and life beyond. Angels,
demons built our paths and heavy prayers.
Empty moments, Christ's name on our tongues.

Yet with his holy name alone on tongues
how is there room to name our greatest fears
our chosen loves and sins, unchosen prayers?
With gladness I got lost and torn to find
myself and that the worlds of angels
were not all made of goodness or of light.

Yet practiced ways for years are like the light
of stars that died before, yet shine like tongues
of fire at night, still riding backs of angels
to reach me in unguarded slips of fear.
So though I don't believe, no longer find
myself in constant supplicated prayer,

at times I cannot help but slip a prayer
of guilt to Him who died within the light
of youth, and there are times I cannot find
the words to frame my deepest joys in tongues
other than those I used in childhood's fear
when darkness threatened me with watching angels.

The night we stood and watched a line of angels
marching down from heaven like a row of prayer
beads hung from clouds and I asked you, my love, in fear
if we could please get to our knees, not knowing northern lights
had made their way from sky and licked our land in tongues
of red and green. And if we looked into their eyes we'd find

just light, color, sun. But on our knees I found
that more than saviors, or eternity, or angels
was you who knew my disbelief, my tongue
betraying my one hundred years of prayer
given to a nonexistent light
and scientist though you are, you knelt beside me in my fear.

And so I found a gift inside the fear.
Not tongues of angels, not holy light.
Just your breath on my skin, so much like a prayer.