Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks




After the third stroke,
her words fell off
to a few soft syllables.
When I enter the room
and enter those red-rimmed eyes
that can’t help
looking toward the left,
she cocks her jaw
and her cheekbones swell.
With what looks like weakness,
she wobbles
her left hand to my wrist,
but that grip
is the grip of a woman
who clings by a root
to the face of a cliff.
When she speaks, her words
are small stones
and loosened particles
of meaning
that tumble to their deaths
before my ear
is quick or close enough
to save them. Irene,
tell me again
, I say,
after the words
in her bits of chopped breath
are gone. But George
takes his cap from my desk
and puts it on his head, and says
Her gulps don’t make no sense.

Poet’s Commentary:

“Sometimes it’s very difficult to communicate with other people, maybe most of the time, and that makes me think of Irene, a patient who seemed to be trying very hard to communicate but wasn’t able to.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press: The Knitted Glove, 1991.

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