My Father Trained His Tongue
Voice and Diction: A Program for Improvement
a fourth edition copy,
red, snug beneath yellowed manila envelopes.
Bent over his desk,
till he read the chapter on posture,
he raised and lowered his pitch and volume,
pronouncing every syllable like a professor
to remedial students—
Heart; wash. Special; spatial. Cough; calf—
navigating the space between his molars.
He must have looked foolish
as he rushed down magnolia hallways
in a green and yellow sweatshirt.
He trashed his cigarettes
when he read the chapter on professionalism
which took him half an hour to pronounce.
had absconded elocution.
If he were to be an accountant,
he must speak like a banker.
My father trained his tongue
and I must un-train mine.
She’d bend my fingers into shapes
she showed me in her book
and parrot what they meant.
Lord, Lord, Lord,
as she drew my squared
right index and thumb
across my chest
like a beauty-queen’s stole.
I didn’t understand.
I thought I ought to learn the words
for bathroom, food, hello, or maybe
I would learn to say my name
before I learned to save a soul.
We moved to the importance
of lip reading and saying every word
you sign. They’d rather understand you
than think you signed as well as them,
which, of course, you won’t.
They read lips better than you’ll ever speak sign,
and never think they want your pity.