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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 3, September 2015

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Jean Wollam
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA


Tongue

My mother boiled the foot-long cow tongue for several hours each Sunday morning, pulling the lolling, rind-covered organ out of the pot to cool on a terry cloth towel spread out on the draining board, before making sandwiches that night for my father and me. I wanted to say roast beef to my classmates, because I learned that saying tongue elicited grimaces and squirmy movements away from me and my sandwich. Tongue—that meat of the poor, remnant, like tripe, sweetbread, heart and brains, that bristled rind that lapped up thistles, gripped grass, nudged the crystals from a salt lick or scooped up all the feed bowl’s grain—that pinkish mauve meat my mother cut in quarter-inch slices every Sunday.

the cow’s rolling tongue
licks the calf’s body dry
life after birth

My mother’s tongue would not be bitten, tied, held. Those Sunday evenings she pleaded: “Get an education,” “earn your own money,” “travel,” “teach,” “don’t depend on a man (or alcohol, food, drugs, the compliments of others).” Hers wagging, I camouflaged the tongue as best I could between slices of white bread and white mayonnaise, pickle relish thick on top of that, maybe a red tomato suturing the sides. This Thoreau of the kitchen (“simplify, simplify, simplify”) taught me to savor sweet, beware bitterness, eschew sour. My mother’s words became my words: eat tongue sandwiches. Make them for others.

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