Betsy Sholl

Stammer  (2 pp)
February 25, 2022 Sholl Betsy

Stammer  (2 pp)


Was I hatched from an egg, fostered by birds
that I appear on screen jittery-anxious,
a quick flickering chickadee who can’t
pull a seed from the feeder without
jerking its head hyper alert?
Terrible to be boxed on Zoom in brief
immortality with a nervous tick,
a twitch of unserene self, all flit and fit,
as if itching with lice.  Why, when you’ve
never been betrayed, nobody cut out
your tongue, be a bird at all?  But there is
my stammer, those speech spots in my brain
out of sync.  Anxious, the therapist diagnosed
in high school when weekly she called me
and a pudgy freshman out of class for sessions
Our assignment? Stand in the town square
saying to the world, I stutter.  Really?
Should we flap our arms too, and flutter?
Such utter disdain I had for that—and
I confess for the boy, three years younger
with a worse stammer I didn’t want to hear.
Strange how cruel we can be when pity
and fear split. My daughter at three wailed
each day we met the one-armed Vet
at the day care entrance, as if she’d just seen
something she never guessed could happen,
Sholl, Stammer, p. 2


and now had to howl it away.  His pain
came as anger, and I tried to explain,
but that didn’t change his loss and how he’d
become an object of terror. Is that what the boy
was to me, his speech so stuck just seeing him
made me want to run? And yet here I am now
on screen, saying to students, Oh by the way
I stutter, tossing it off as just one
of those flaws that make us human, some
harder to hide than others.  I hope the boy
also came to this, hope he grew slender
and strong, learned a few tricks to help the words
ease out, fly a little and land on a branch
supple enough to dip with their weight.
I hope he found a nest where he can be
fragile and safe, that his tongue found a mouth
willing to be filled with his kisses, someone
who won’t even need to say—no matter
how long his words take—It’s all right,
I can wait, I can sit here on this limb
among the leaves, and wait.

Betsy Sholl’s ninth collection is House of Sparrows: New & Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin, 2019).Her 10th collection, “As If a Song Could Save You,” will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in fall of 2022. She teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.