Talking in Tongues
We knew to tiptoe quietly
if mama was on the land line
using her full lips to parse out
each syllable, carefully measuring
her words as if they were being
eye-balled and weighed
on the other end.
She saved that tongue
for bill collectors and the principal,
but if she used it to sound out my
whole name, everyone knew
trouble was coming.
The tongue she used for close friends
had sugar on it,
was filled with laughter
and warmth and music.
When they fell into small circles,
made words hold their breath,
change their color and meaning
and forced the rules of English
to take off its good wig,
it was not just speech class,
it was my first real poetry.