The Three "What" Rule
The Three “What” Rule
A Poem by Jennifer Thal
I cannot see her mouth move; her sweater is a green-sea wall
of solid mass with her back turned to me.
Three bodies sandwich me between two conversations,
six voices filtering in both of my ears. My hearing aids don’t
know which conversation to pick up; the voices
are mixed together into unintelligible babble of
Academia. After asking “what” three times, and I still
cannot hear them, I want to crush my hearing aids
within my palms like cloves of garlic. I reek of disability,
inability, asking “what” three times is not fun for me or
for you while I am straining to hear between the boom of the radiator
and the bombshells of furious keyboard typing. I want to pull
against the tide of the sea-green sweater and touch her eardrums
with my fingertips, feel the vibration of what I cannot have.
The third time asking “what” is not a question, it is a plea for mercy,
a statement of definition, my hearing aids hang limp from my ears.
The middles of words are taffy, pulling apart
meaning and my molars get stuck trying to digest.
My name is a whale call. You beckon for me crawl from the depths
of my threshold and break to the surface, why should you
swim down to me with your breathing apparatus
and anchor when I can hold my breath in the air?
My hearing aids are not a second pair of healthy
ears, and I wonder why I cannot hear some words
and others I can taste like glossy hard candy, savoring
the sound and rolling the words, intact, around on my tongue?
Too many times I have been left starving, and you toss me
scraps of the conversation, discarded,
an after-thought. Back twisted to me, you are a bird
of prey devouring the words I am desperate to swallow.