Miranda Field

Scold’s Mask

If the tongue wags,

caliper the tongue. The tongue delivers lashes.

Buckle the mask to tourniquet the tongue.

The mule-snout of the scold’s mask

blunts the pointed finial tongue, the hasp-tongue

back to loaf-shape, to shovel-shape, 

to food, to tool, to good machine, to tabernacle

of intentional action.  Not toy

that wills itself to whirring in the toy-box.

The atmosphere the tongue lies bedded in—

the tongue’s environs—

makes an ideology of its lewd motions.

A mildew in the market.

A pathogen in the aspic.

Cut off the flow that feeds the tongue,

or twist or tie it tightly.

Or stuff the hole it cobras from with gauze.

Tonight, the tongue is a particularly muscular vine.

Tonight it redoubles it efforts to ascend

Heavenward.  The husband-tongue, the “love-muscle”tongue.

What miracles of synchronized swimming,

what exquisite tension between buried root and forcefully

arrowing-forth prow…. It’s hard to hood this.

One tongue finds another to entwine,

one tongue grows a bindweed round another’s stem.

And consider carefully this ramification of the stickiest index:

its extremities are relentlessly expansionist

but slow motion, transfixing with sense

whatever they contact.  And of all members mobilized

by voluntary acts, this exceeds by far all others

in numbers and varieties of its intentions. 

But if caught in time, it can be constricted in childhood.

It can be ratified, espaliered.  It can be trained

to arabesques of sexual servility.  And citizenry. 

It can be sectioned.  And seduced to science.

It can be stilled for years, and stiffened.

But by an insidious magic is rendered stretchy again—

by certain essences, by liquors, yes, by questions.

And when released extends its pliant self.

And waves like a monarch from her cordoned carriage.

And bends back constantly to self-excite.

And lavishes its machinations on the orchid-pulse,

on the honey-pot, the homily, the come-on.

The muscles that move the lips

and the mouth of man and the human tongue

are more numerous and subtle than any other animal’s.

Whatever the tongue supplies,

its poisons or its balms,

there’s an open market for.  But an indentured source.




“Scold’s Mask” first appeared in TriQuarterly, (issue 119), and appears in Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, (Sarabande Books, 2006).