(after years of unsuccessful psychotherapy)
Barbara, do you remember
“deaf and dumb”
—it was the way people
described them in our childhood — do you
remember Judy’s parents?
born deaf, who
made those grunting sounds
like a seal’s bark,
without a tongue —
in her throat hoarse, urgent —
who’d lost his speech
in an accident, who’d smile,
gesture to us, shake his head
up and down
then turn to Esther, touch her hands,
while she went on throwing
her arms in the air, a little wild,
afraid he didn’t understand.
Calm, calm, he seemed
to be telling her.
This is what we plan to do.
And she would settle down, get into
the car. And he would motion to Judy
as we watched; Judy, your friend,
who spoke like us, normal,
but who could answer silently to him
as well, her hands flashing
those quick mysterious messages.
I remember them now. Their struggles
to understand and be understood.
Maybe they would drive all day and get
At night, in the hotel,
maybe Fred and Esther would caress, write
on each other’s palms.
He makes a joke and she
understands. There is an odd, choked
laugh. They make love and lie still.
And in the dark, Judy listens,
imagining fingers that brush across
the body like large, summer leaves.
I remember them
because they are my inner family
telling me to listen,
to gesture, to struggle, to go on,
with these limitations I know
I can never accept.