The idea for this poem came to me as I watched a red-bellied woodpecker at the birdbell on my windowsill. The woodpecker’s tongue was out, and licking the birdbell. That’s when I thought: Even birds have tongues! My train of thought took off from that station.
It led me to think of human saliva, and how we use it. Those of you who are mothers of small children: you experience this more than I do. This humble but so necessary fluid functions in all our lives every single day. When my best friend’s husband had salivary gland cancer, this reality came even more painfully to me.
I’ve often thought about how we use our hands, often , to serve others. But all the varied parts of our bodies do their service.
Even the birds have tongues.
I’ve seen hummingbird’s, fine as a hair,
slip out to catch the nectar from the fuchsia,
have seen fledgling woodpecker’s tentatively taste
From the birdbell at my window.
Tongues sliding on saliva.
Healing water from our mouths,
healing water all were born with ,
salvia salvation, living water,
humble, intimate, vibrant, vital.
Tomcat licking his wounds after a fight,
my mother licking her finger, rubbing the dirt off my nose…
Saliva, shining my lips and teeth,
cleansing my glasses, sucking my cut finger,
Christ’s saliva on the blind man’s eyes.
More humble than tears,
how did you come to be flung out
of the mouth of scorn?
(Poem featured in How the Hand Behaves from Finishing Line Press, 2009)
Sister Anne Higgins is a daughter of Charity for close to 50 years, and a professor of English at Mount St. Mary’s Univeristy in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She is also the author of many selected works of poetry.