Shannon K. Winston
BECAUSE I'M AFRAID TO SPEAK
In 7th grade, someone called me Helen Keller
as if it were the worst epithet in the world.
I won’t lie: I had to go home to ask who that was.
But oh my relief because she had no “s’s”
in her name for me to stumble through.
Did you know, living in France I had no lisp?
In Paris, I felt as though I were slipping
into another girl’s silk dress.
Fitting another’s diamonds around my fingers.
Even at that young age, feeling beautiful,
unfettered, and sexy. This is what stepping into another
language affords. But in English,
my own native language, I’ve always felt clunky and heavy
as if lumbering about in loafers too big to be mine.
So I began imagining this scene in almost cinematic
detail: I’m a woman standing
on a rooftop of some strange city stringing letters
of the alphabet on a clothesline like white linens.
The letters appear suddenly, seamless, and bright.
“A” is a negligee with lavender thread patching the underarms.
I would have wanted someone to kiss me there.
Loneliness skirts the letter “C”—
the curve soft-white like my belly button.
“D” is for the dampness between my thighs, for the blue
socks I tried to dry, but put too close to the fire.
Skip ahead to “G” and “H.” To “Q,” “R,” and “S”—
letters lined with happiness, sadness, and defeat all at once.
How can they assume so many shapes?
Round, square, oval, sticky, I felt them all.
I shoved them in my mouth
and ironed them with my tongue.
I turned buttons into sweet velvety seeds.