Thursday Poem

Inner Family

—after being told by the therapist to “live with my limitations”

I remember how we called them then: “deaf and
dumb.” It was 1950 and Judy’s parents lived
in the apartment house at the corner.

Esther, her mother, born deaf, who frightened us
with her efforts at speech — sounds we’d never
heard — like a soft seal’s bark.

And Fred, her father, who’d lost his vocal cords
in an accident, who’d smile, gesture to me, shake
his hand up and down, acknowledging, then turn
to Esther, touch her hands, explain to her
……. while she went on throwing her arms in the air,
a little wild, afraid he didn’t understand. And she
would settle down, get in the car. And he would
motion to Judy, as I watched. Judy, who spoke as
we did, but who could flash her hands toward them,
signaling in the other language.

These days I remember the Kaufmans and their
struggles to be understood.
I imagine them driving all day and at night in the
motel maybe Fred and Esther would caress, write
some love words on each other’s palms. And
in the dark Judy might try to listen, imagining
fingers that brush across flesh like the swaying
of large summer leaves.

I remember them in these days because they are
my inner family. They urge me to go on, to gesture,
to live bravely somehow, cheerfully, in this
contorted silence I can never accept.

by Lou Lipsitz
Seeking the Hook
Signal Books, 1997