A graph aligning hertz and decibel.
A shell, conducting sound from minute bones
precisely calibrated to transmit
compression waves through cilia so frail
the follicles eroded, oxygen-
deprived at birth. Your audiologist
inscribes a speech banana on the grid.
Ambiguous half-smile of normal range
within which frequency and volume mesh,
the precious ground your hearing occupies
is riven by a downward sloping line
that trails away, a map of compromise
recording all you cannot hear to say.
Age three, you grunt and squawk, half-animal,
mime "milk" with udder tugs, tap fingertips
on lips for baby food you still devour,
tuck thumb between forefingers to request
another diaper change. Your therapist
goads speech with physical release, intense
encounters face to face three weekly hours.
Cross-legged on the floor she conjures noise;
you bellow, mouth distended, jaw adrift.
Rough consonants and vowels rise unbound,
extruded one by one, each phoneme freed
from long confinement into air and light.
You squat and stand as if supporting weight,
windmill frantic arms to force this flower:
"Mo--." Another try, fists clenched, beginning
shoulder-high, plunged down, around, and up. "More!"
Within the darkened observation room
I weep; the one-way window's secrecy
admits your stare, triumphantly aware.
You heard yourself and know I did, that word
a door you shoulder open, and go out.
George Witte is the author of two collections, Deniability (2009) and The Apparitioners (2005), both distributed by Orchises Press; his new manuscript titled Does She Have a Name? is seeking a publisher. His poems have been published in numerous journals, and reprinted in Best American Poets 2007 and Vocabula Unbound. He received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine and a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. For twenty seven years he has worked at St. Martin’s Press, where he is editor in chief. He lives with his wife and their two daughters in Ridgewood, New Jersey.