Mother Tongue – by Janice Northerns

Mama radiated heat lightning
when she spoke in tongues, an aura

of joy shawling her shoulders
as birds of all colors fluttered

from her mouth, ecstasy, secret
grammar whispered into God’s ear.

And when song bubbled up, she rose
from the pew, overhead fluorescents

haloing her black hair to a glow.
Acapella alto notes flowed

from within and, somehow, above,
as holy voltage connected

with lifted hands, electrified
her tongue, a song-shaped burnt offering.

Her lock and key I thought I found
in poems: faded blue cartridge

ink on diary’s brittle pages—
plain language, no tongues of fire, no

coded syntax. But, like Paul, I
saw through a glass darkly, a child’s

view. Only now, revelation:
how she grabbed hard, held on, how she

laid claim with voice and word, how she
echoes still, hushed fluttering bird.

A native Texan, Janice Northerns now lives in southwest Kansas with her husband, two dogs, and a laptop. Her poems have appeared in The Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Roanoke Review, Southwestern American Literaturedescant, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. Her awards include a 2019 writing residency from Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, a 2018 Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, second place in Southwest Review’s 2017 Marr Poetry Contest, and the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award from Texas Tech University. Read more of her poetry at or follow her on Twitter @JaniceNortherns.

Painting: “The Garden of Hope”
Artist: Henry L. Jones
2019 – 16×20 inches – mixed media on canvas