Speaking In Tongues
Guided by Voices

Tatiana Retivova





Will of iron, heart of stone is the way
of my past tribulations. These days
I seek to galvanize my heart,
clear it from debris. Invite
the electrolyte most suited
for an alchemical union of psyches.
But first I must be ripped asunder
from the metal-working god
who has rendered my malleable parts
null and void. I am no longer
his angular wishbone to be
split after the feast of Thanksgiving.
Scrutinized until I was useless,
a sackcloth of plasma, bones, and all my hair
that once spun Medusa-like across
a lukewarm phosphorescent estuary,
I return to my shores in a previous incarnation,
always as virtual as I am palpable.
My trajectory – marked by the Dipper’s angle,
here the cup runneth over, there it hangs
swinging on a loose hinge across a barren field.
What is this Anglo-Saxon landscape
that I so readily abandon, despite a fierce need
to haunt it from afar with my third eye?
Elsewhere I might come like the sound
of Canadian geese landing in a cornfield
late October. If prompted.
Tired shots throbbing through the air.
Bleeding maples preside majestically.
A dim false memory of burning at some stake.
7 November 1999


...And the name of the star is called Wormwood:
and a third of the waters became Wormwood;
and many men died from the waters, because
they were made bitter.
From Revelations: 8:11
Chernobyl is Wormwood, in Russian & Ukrainian.


This winter chill is not a seasonal event,
Coming despite the heat, passion or rain.
It draws upon my spleen for sustenance,
Laying me low like novocaine.
I lift a limb as if in pantomime,
Each gesture is a rugged climb.
The lady doth... too much, I know,
What with the Wormwood’s afterglow
Reflected in the fields, the lakes,
Leaving a moonscape in its wake.
Now even crows have gone to mourn,
To blacken with their hungry scorn
The seven hillocks spread in disarray.
....Protest? I do not dare. This chill is not
So global that I might waylay
By word of mouth alone. Such is my lot.
This winter chill is not a seasonal event.
No hallow day to mark it, no set date.
It came upon a whim to recreate
The raging spirit flavored by Absinthe.
July 1986


Have you heard the Dniepr mermaids sing?
They are stillborn or unbaptized
dead girls calling for our blessings
to relieve them of their need to hurl
every traveler, like some long lost Odysseus,
off these bluffs into the raging sea.
Three times every seven years
they will swim up the mouth of the river,
as slick and as intent as salmon,
beneath the ice, with razor gills,
charting their trajectory from Odessa to Kiev,
and emerge when the verba is in bloom
to hang from the branches of willow wood.
I have gone to the riverbanks and incanted:
Ya tebya, Ivan da Mariya, in the name of
the Father, etc., put these weary souls to rest.
But they insist on glowing in the dark,
wooing me despite my wreaths of wormwood
toward the soft, silty river undertow.
All my prayer can do is keep them
from undoing my weaving, that’s all.
I will pray and remain haunted
by these young Dniepr mermaids,
though my praying alone is in vain.
April 1995


Come and find me
between the feathergrass
and wormwood, you never will
guess where I am
struggling to dislodge
my ancestral malaise.
This time I am both
liminal and luminous.
Beyond the Carpathian ridge
a field of unharvested sunflowers
pray with heads bowed to the sun.
I observe the seasonal fruition
of eastward steppe, westward wood.
Between them—a granite grotto
where I hold petrified court.
Only the cuckoo bird dares
call me by my real name.
Like some latter-day Virgin of Sorrows
I cover rows of chernozem armed
with a dosimeter for cross.
As quixotic as ever, I appeal
to the roving restless spirits of the land.
Come find me, between the feathergrass
and wormwood. You never will.
June 1995


It grows wild on the Desna riverbanks,
the homeopathic cure for all kisses
of betrayal. Mix it with spring water,
a sprig of St. John’s Wort gathered
in the waning moon. Let it stand
a fortnight in the shade of morning glory.
At dawn, collect the dew from hops
and droopy ferns, in a silver thimble.
During the full dog day moon assemble
the concoction, thimble of dew, some cognac.
Between two burning ruble church candles
imbibe: one tablespoon, a drop, a shot
in lazy succession, nevermind if
the source of your passion has wearied
of your unsolicited sighing with abandon,
or that you have underscored his name
twice too often in some silly refrain.
This will take care of all that.
By midnight you must climb out onto
your grass widow’s walk. Observe
how the moon now straddles a spruce
until she topples him, breaks into sparks
of light particles that form a beam
across the silver, deifying river current.
Lie down in its wake naked on the damp
tongue & groove floor boards from Slovenia.
Head toward the North, position: Hanged Man.
«Breathe in the gathering gloom...»
Summon intergalactic guardians carried
by meteorite showers and falling stars. Repeat.
6 November 1999


Saint Antoine de Padou,
Faites moi trouver ce que j’ai perdu.
Let me cross this final lair
Of polyphonic winds where
My splintered psyche can sing
Itself into restoration.
Braced with the windgeard
And Aphrodite’s girdle,
I succumb to dormant kennings,
The better to measure nautical
Miles with. This double knot
Suggests a fugue deprived
Of wind, it falters at half-mast and
Leaves me landlocked and lunatic.
Deck, deck the halls of my infamy
With wormwood, for all this ambrosia
Has carbonized the islets of Langerhans.
Let me languish here a fortnight,
Extinguish the stars at noon,
Help Adam with his endless task,
Or recollect my villa of mysteries at
MOGLIO fraz. di Alassio where the ghost
Of Violetta Ingana hovers like Demeter
Over her great-granddaughter’s fever
Induced by the bite of a scorpion of sorts.
Her chastity belt demolished by the gods.
All around me, those ancient orgiastic scenes:
Noces de Dionysos et d’Ariadne ou Dionysos
et Persephone. Le mystique Orphique.
Sacrifice a Dionysos ou rites de pirufication.
Smuggled by my great-uncle Vito Brunati
To Alassio, his own private Pompeii
Sur la mer Me- Me- Mediterranee.
Ohe, ohe. Years later I erupt
Like some Vesuvius in a frigid land.
4 December 1999


«I am Arnault who hoards the wind,
and hunts the hare with an ox,
and swims against the current.»
Arnault Daniel (Troubador from the 12th c.)
Midons, I am your lady trobairitz
haunted by the langue d’oc in which
the vessel of my jouissance overflows
as one rima cara after another bestows
albas, trobar clus, pastorelles,
sestinas, trobar ric, villanelles.
Watch me as I dance and mingle my words
crosshatched by the echoes of your swords
over the bleeding valleys of the Rhone,
undone by my vassal’s cryptic song.
From one crusade to another, o misericorde!
Spare me my name, cross, and Nicene creed.
Mon fin amors, n’est il pas un trompe l’oeil?
From Toulouse to Nimes and Marseille
I have dragged my silks and silver, just for you,
I have slant-rhymed on the riverbanks, for you,
I have swum against the current, after you,
I will die for my faith, before you.
So, Midons, am I not worthy of a greater sign?
Where is your emblematic seal, your coat-
of-arms? Here is my body – your palimpsest.
Stigmatize me on this bed of thorns. Vite!
Have I crossed Occitania on bareback for naught?
And now deliver me, en senhal, to our souzerain.
«O mon souverain roi, me voici donc
Tremblante et seule devant toi...»
Let me fill your chalice with my song,
the better to unfurl your brow with. Quoi?
Arnault? He went off to sing the praises
of ma cousine, la chatelaine d’Avignon.
Moi? Ah, je m’embete, comme toujours,
Seule la priere vient a mon secours.
Tu penses? Mais ce n’est pas la premiere fois.
Ca? Rien! Le cheval m’a jette auparavant.
Pourquoi tu me regardes comme ca, toi?
Mais laisses moi, que tu es ennuyant...
14 November 1999