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The Three "What" Rule

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. 


Just An Endless Mating Season

Just An Endless Mating Season

Claire

Claire