I’m slowly giving up on speech, on my tongue clicking behind my teeth, on making the sounds of air echoing around an empty room. More and more my sentences dangle like the snapped string of a circus balloon, pointless and failed. All these words going nowhere. When I was three, running up the path to my grandfather’s house, I tripped over an uneven flagstone or maybe my own untamed feet. Whichever way it happened I came down chin first, tongue trapped between milk teeth sharp enough to bite right through. In the emergency room the doctor told my mother it would be fine, that small injuries can heal themselves and the tongue is well supplied with blood. My mother, worried misalignment would leave an impediment, a tripping speech, demanded stitches. So the doctor drew needle and nylon through mouth muscle and it can’t be true that I remember that slide of suture but I’ve always said that I do: the pull and tug through my tongue. Even today I have a tiny scar there, most secret mark, smallest parting of my flesh, and I want this to mean something: that my housewife mother secured speech for her daughter by bullying a doctor who, when faced with a girl’s bleeding mouth, said: it’ll be fine. And who’s to say it wouldn’t have been, who’s to say the flesh behind my teeth wouldn’t have found its own point of connection and bled itself back to health? Because if I’m looking for meaning, there’s always another way to read the story— say, that when I was a child a man stitched closed my tongue and afterwards gave me a lolli to sweeten the scar.
JENNIFER SAUNDERS is the author of Self-Portrait with Housewife (Tebot Bach, 2019), winner of the Clockwise Chapbook Competition. Her poem “Crosswalk” was selected by Kim Addonizio as the winner of the 2020 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize and appeared in Southword. Jennifer is a Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Orison Anthology nominee, and her work has appeared previously in Twyckenham Notes as well as Cotton Xenomorph, The Georgia Review, Grist, Ninth Letter, and other publications. Jennifer holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in German-speaking Switzerland where in the winters she teaches skating in a hockey school and drives her hockey-playing children to many, many ice rinks.