|On the Tip of My
Emotions excited by some unexpected word occasions the most extraordinary revolutions in our frame, accelerates the circulation, causes the heart to palpitate, the tongue to refuse its office. Thomas Malthus
A self, you say? Not quite that, but easily a sentient being, the bodys live center, determined and often eager, an intent probe, dislodging fugitive after-meal raspberry seeds and ferreting out small, wedged-in parcels of green. It rests only momentarily and then must be off and doing: buffing, patrolling, playing tag with the testing teeth. The tongue of course knows pleasure best; having the immediate right of first refusal, can tell hot from cold, the bitter from the sweet, along with all those muscled pleasures of the lick--ice cream, etc. The tongue is touch/taste, a double sense that most cant do without. Although blind, the tongue thinks it needs no other sense, and it can taste iron in the blood.
The organ that assays, teeth testing thought when communing with the tongue, a budding aide-memoire, its tip the loading dock for elusive memories. Soul of concentration, tongue between lips thinking things through. A tongue can hang out, as it did draped aloft for Michael Jordon. When you play dead, your tongue lolls.
Little girls stick out their tongues at boys; the tip of a tongue may peep obscenely when a man looks at his wife, who rolls her eyes but pops hers out, too. Coated, it can signal illness from a minor cold or become a fatal pennant on display at the dentists.
Perhaps its best not seen. Period. The tongue, though, can uncannily call attention to itself. You cant just ignore it or perhaps your wife, or possibly mine, cant, as she has a not inconsiderable stake in my tongue---especially she the anatomist, who gets a glimpse of something on the thrust tongue. And whats this? She says. Not that way, put it out, now more to the side. No, more.
And how longs that been there? Couple weeks perhaps, I said, saying, I thought Id bitten it in my sleep or had popped a taste bud.
A little moue of distaste followed, as she accused, And Ive been kissed by that? I thought it would go away I pleaded, she already dialing her dental-hygienist sister. Nothing probably, brush your tongue, see the dentist. Brushing ones tongue seems so risible, so a rebours, the scrubbing down of a landed sea creature. But I did at last look at my tongue, and there emerged a small, antique-white body, skull-like, crowning through the surface.
Helpless at physical measurement, your tongue can blow things all out of proportion, becoming sometimes the mis-measure of the world--small missing fillings transform into bomb craters. Can mine be an improvised explosive device? My tongue can do nothing but rub the offending nodule--I refuse to say lump here--against the bark of upper molars as would a dog with a wen, and I dont go so far as to nip at it--I do have some control, with just a bit of assaying between the teeth.
A day later, the dentist looks, concludes with a sustained dotted-quarter hmmmmmm probably nothing. Probably should see the oral surgeon. Hell do something and if he thinks its something then, he can just nip it out. Later, I can imagine the surgeon, Dr. Tse (pronounced say), nipping it out with his right incisors.
Such a deceitful word, nipping is, suggesting too restricted a semantic space to incorporate spraying, anesthetizing, injecting, freezing, clamping, cutting, closing, stitching. Biopsying. (I think Ill stick with nipping, now that I think of it.) I see Leslie driving me home with a patch of little black basting, my tongue, the entire wounded affair at rest, topped by a delicate black bow to be opened some time later.
At home, Ill drink yoghurt, pureed soup, and warm coffee from a childs Sippy cup and heal. Probably nothing. The stitches will be snipped away. You know, Ive never been sick, you know that. (Although my nose had lost a not-so-small swatch of flesh to cancer.)
But suppose its something where I do lose my tongue, some considerable portion of it cut away, leaving me just with what is called the root? Well, I cant kiss. Although what I really think, first, is bye, bye job--no more diffident/witty professor, classroom dazzler, lover of his own voice, scourge of generations of college presidents. The tongue lashing will be double. Food will be mush piped in via straw. Well, actually, will I be able to suck?--I flip my tongue back and try, the verdicts definitely out; one of these lips-together-teeth-apart sort of things.
My fractured tongue will still feel its lost other and become unemployed, the voiceless linguist--lamenting silently, wheres the rest of me? But can I truly taste? Will taste be gone and smell cut in two?
Of course, I wont be able to talk--not only no professor, no more friends, sons now distant even across a café table. And your wife, you think: Will you be a husband: Will I be abhominable to her? (Shakespeare uses the word in Loves Labours Lost.) Well, will I? Its Leslie, who maintains a Leporello-like list of things that are gross, starting with items on her plate touching. The list will unfurl like Gene Simmons tongue and now be inscribed at its bottom will be me in fresh ink, the h in husband already beginning to run. Ill sound like a stroke victim, which Leslie will try to laugh at with an instinctive touch that knows that laughing heals. At least it has. Had.
Now all I will be is a writer--not so much of prose but of text messages and head-already-on-the-floor, horizontal emoticons (I discover that :p is stick out your tongue), and, you, the letter that looks like a tongue. Post-Its will be my medium, 4X5 cards for long compositions, an Etch-a-Sketch for visuals, acute and obtuse angles.
What the hell does tongue--this indivisible syllable--come from anyway? As I thought, its Middle English, tunge, and then the dictionary says, see dnghu over in Indo-European Roots: tongue, language, linguist. A trio out of sight, out of hearing, out of mind.
So I should practice for a bit at home--this possible thing of not having a tongue. I find a thick rubber band from the daily paper, The Herald, push the band back to the frenulum. But before I get to practice, I love you (Leslie, Paul, Gabe), or Do you love me? (Leslie), the tongue retracts and wrestles off the band like an unwanted dog collar. Holding my tongue, thatll give me a feel. Maybe I can practice a sentence (I know I should have mentioned this earlier, I thought it was probably nothing, really, or, Will you still kiss me on the lips?). Thrashing like an alligator, wet and hard to keep a grip, and, before it bucks me off, it gives out something that sounds like dnghu.