ISSUE 3 · FALL 2009
In Which a Taste for Tongue
is Eloquently Debated
BRENDA MANN HAMMACK
When asked how parents died, Victorine cannot say. It was a fever took away Myfanwy’s. “They cut my hair to cool the brain,” she whispers solemnly. her brother (if he heard) would feelingly insist she was not cured. He’s sure she’s choleric.
Though Myfanwy does not argue, she may advise:
“Never lick hands, or plate, or bowl; never pick teeth, or ears, or nose in public.”
When the Humbug vomits little bones at table, Myfanwy looks pity at wallpaper rose.
Her brother dissects pellet with penknife.
The desire to bite fluttery things (dust; June bugs; vowels) is less feline than dragonfly, more gargoyle than owl. While the Humbug may fuss over earwigs and chicken lice, its hankerings pang worse at prospect of echo-mice that patronize gaslights as if they were eyebright and daylilies in need of pollination.
As for Victorine, all sweetmeat is manna, sublimation. She could levitate on lemon cake; she could feather tasting marmalade. And if sugar plums or grape glacé could be her entrée everyday, she’d flutter iridescently until the Humbug bit her. A bee with lips would kiss her, and the fireflies would whicker at their own.
The boy must beg to differ. (He’s now called Dragonkiller.) He posits tongue as fillinger than other tastes. Although his sister remonstrates, “Such offal only denigrates the higher virtues of the race,” the boy insists that pickled flakes of salivating membrane are best for fueling daring deeds like whacking sundry flying things.
If Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery were thorough in its recipes, it would include some mishmash dish like Yorkshire pie with aspic wisps of swallowtail, or songbird tongue and scuppernongs in marzipan to feed them all. And if such feast could sate their needs, the Humbug might be safe to sneeze, then shimmer skyward.
Brenda Mann Hammack teaches creative writing, Victorian literature, and children’s literature at Fayetteville State University. “In Which a Taste for Tongue is Eloquently Debated” is excerpted from Victorine and the Humbug: A Neo-Victorian Fantasy in Verse. Other excerpts have appeared in Mudlark, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Illya’s Honey, Arsenic Lobster, and North Carolina Literary Review. Two of these poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Brenda has also contributed a poem to Issue 6 of A cappella Zoo.