Surprise Tongue by (2 Stories)

Prompted By What We Ate

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Now I wonder though, might the consumption of that mama cow’s tongue have been the symbolic origin for a daughter’s own future developing poetic tongue? - because these days, who eats cow tongue otherwise?

My Mother never boasted about being a good cook.  She never enjoyed meal preparation really, considered it a chore, and believed she wasn’t good at it anyway.  Besides, she had seven children to raise alone, therein entailing enough work to keep her days very busy, so cooking was just one more duty to fulfill.  Keeping things simple was mandatory — white rice with tuna or ground hamburger, spaghetti, fish sticks, legumes and a lot of canned and boxed foods – that’s what I remember.  Occasionally she would prepare liver simmered heavy in brown sugar, my absolute favorite.  I always ate everything she put on our plates, and it was all delicious to me.

One day however, through some strange inspiration, my mother actually followed a recipe and prepared beef tongue doused in a richly seasoned tomato sauce.  I remember the day well because the food was “out of our ordinary-menu” and I loved the strange smells coming from the kitchen, permeating the adjoining rooms.  She kept secret what was being preparing, and that created the ambiance for everything to become all-the-more exciting.  Only after dinner was over did she announce to her eagerly-anticipating little ones exactly what had just been consumed, unknowingly.  Most of my siblings were hugely grossed-out and our expressions of shock and dismay were the precise reaction that my mom awaited with devilish grin and resounding laughter.  She was a playful person with a warm and unique sense of humor.

After her death, writing became the place where I remember her most vividly, a therapeutic avenue toward healing, with poetry the favored field of salvation explored most joyfully.  Now I wonder though, might the consumption of that mama cow’s tongue have been the symbolic origin for a daughter’s own future developing poetic tongue? — because these days, who eats cow tongue otherwise?  And in this lonely place landed, “half-a-century-plus” later — after divorce, death and loss and empty-nest — where are all of my fellow poets hiding, with their own unique tongues of savored expression?  Need beef tongue be served but once more again for the betterment of one of communication’s most artistic expressions?

The Poet need find her own unique tongue first, and then she finds her truest voice.  And I think eating cow tongue helps, at least once to try, I really do.

Profile photo of Johanna Mackey Johanna Mackey

Tags: Surprise Tongue, Beef tongue, “What We Ate”
Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Lovely and interesting memory and analogy to finding your own voice and savoring that tongue so long ago. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you for reading, Betsy, and for the very kind reply. I also look forward to reading your work.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Joan, I hope you do read what I write. I’ve been writing for Retrospect for a long time now, and I will write every week when there is a new prompt. I believe this was the first prompt I ever wrote (they sometimes repeat prompts), so if you dig through, you’ll see my story, titled “Brisket”. I think my writing has improved over the years.

  2. John Zussman says:

    This story instantly transported me back to when my mom, the daughter of a butcher, would serve us tongue, mostly in sandwiches. I thought it was okay—not tasty but okay—through most of my childhood, but by high school it grossed me out and I decided I didn’t like the taste much either. This contrasts with liver, which she loved and served regularly, despite the fact that my siblings and I hated it from the get-go. Fortunately that ended after she remarried after my father’s death and my stepfather would not tolerate it. Thanks, Dad.

    But then you give us an extra gift, the gift of tongue as metaphor, and a willingness to try on (and try out) different tongues as a way to find our own voice. The poet surfaces! Welcome to Retrospect.

    • Thank you so much, John. What a nice place to write! I look forward to reading your stories as soon as I learn how to maneuver around this site. So few people enjoy liver, but I think when my body needed that rich iron intake, the craving for liver always came. Still learning how to listen, but when accomplished successfully, the precise foods necessary are ever called forth. Thank you also for acknowledging the wanna-be poet… still trying to find her truest voice.

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