Jennifer Saunders


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.