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.