Making the Tongue Dry
—essay by Jen Soriano

I’ve blown a bubble and instead of catching it on the wand I open my mouth and catch it on my tongue where it stays, full, round, shining and iridescent, seductive and plump and magical. Until it bursts.

My 14 month old squeals with delight and claps for more. Is it then a natural human impulse, to want more bubbles, even though they burst?

The bubble that is no more has left a slickness on my tongue that I can’t quite spit out. I go to the kitchen faucet and run it, cocking my head and opening my mouth to catch some of the water stream, like I used to do as a kid. I wet my tongue. Rinse. Spit. Repeat. My baby thinks this is funny and lets out one of his distinct laughs - a sharp “ka!” followed by a loud and drawn out inhale that makes him sound like an old man with emphysema.

I turn off the faucet, pick him up, and walk out to our balcony. In the late afternoon light we watch the surface of the Puget Sound recede, like water draining reluctantly from a bathtub.

About a mile away, a bald white head stares at the same waters. Four stories high, the head gazes like a sentinel over the Sound, across the southern arm of the Salish Sea. The statue’s soft features could be those of anyone, but she is sculptor Jaume Plensa’s version of a tragedy. She is the Greek mountain nymph Echo, who kept Hera from discovering Zeus’ flirtations by distracting the goddess with conversation. Hera, angered by this intervention, punished Echo by abolishing her ability to speak freely, save to repeat the last words of others.

In this moment, staring at the bald twin peaks of Mt. Olympus, I imagine that if she could, what Echo would say is this:

“Austerity with the decadence of plunder will not stand.”

Instead, in the harsh heat of climate change come to Seattle summer, she is silent.

Hotter than July is starting to mean something even in the Pacific Northwest. Always in Puerto Rico but even more so now that the island is small enough to fail, apparently. For a long time in Greece, as Echo repeats, and now doubled down with a bailout package that looks more like a draconian lock with a rusted key. Before in Argentina but it’s cooler there now, it’s winter in the South after all.

In the North twenty degrees more of mercury feels like a lot of things — feels like my baby’s hair trampled in sweat, feels like seagull droppings steaming on Echo’s head, feels like my father’s ankle bursting with gout. Feels like bald eagles — or is it plucked chickens? — coming home to roost.

Bulging deficits. Damaged climates. Seismic shifts.

Backs of workers. Spine of the earth. 

Subtraction. Extraction. Contraction.

The end of this long division is not a natural number.

How can I explain this to my baby? Better to just blow bubbles that burst?

Maybe we can begin here: with the origins of the word.

Austerity: from the Greek austeros meaning “bitter”, “harsh” and especially, “making the tongue dry”.

Bitter like soil turned to dust from the drought turned Golden State grey, bitter like ash once a tree flying wild like unrooted flame.

Harsh like robbing all the Peters to pay a few Pauls, like water rationed inside turned faucets dry while outside turned to rebellion with ordinary names.

Bittersweet like windfalls for the gods of profit.

Nothing like the clothes off poor backs to mend holes in silk pockets.

Dry. Like.

Dry like Echo’s tongue mined of its glands, thick with unspoken longing for her mountain home, even the baldness of it, where just last summer we could lap the peaks like popsicles. Now we can only lick gravel and dirt. Dry like tongues shredded from telling harsh stories that taste of bootstraps and chains. Dry like tongues forked by love for Narcissus, who seeks only to reproduce himself, at any cost, regardless of alternative. How many people go hungry to feed his nest egg. Remember that in the end he himself starved.

Echo the mute nymph deceived Hera, protected Zeus, loved Narcissus. Eco, I mean Echo, the 4-story sentinel bears witness, hopes for freedom from this curse. She is tired of echoes, tired of dominoes, tired of the N that dominates the L and the bubbles that burst.

She wants dandelions. She wants alternative cycles of dissemination, re-creation. Closed loops that somehow lead to better places. The ability to seed the new rather than to reap what has already passed.

How can I explain this to my baby? Better to just blow bubbles that burst?

Maybe we can begin here: with the origins of our world and the lesson that all that’s old must become new again. Metamorphoses. Transformation. New stories of creation. After all, years ago it was written, as Ovid knew, that everything - even Rome - must give way to change.

Jen Soriano is a Filipina-American writer and social justice communications strategist. As a freelance writer she has published articles in outlets including Mother Jones, Filipinas Magazine, Yes!, ParentMap, Stir Journal and Seattle Magazine. She is pursuing an MFA in non-fiction and fiction with the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. She'd love to connect with you on twitter: @lionswrite