John Tustin

That’s the sound that would often come from my mouth when
I was seven years old,
My tongue flapping like a fish stranded on shore,
Unable to breathe
As I attempted and failed to stammer out a word.
So I kept my mouth shut most of the time,
Blended into the background,
Eager to please but frightened to speak.
Praying the teacher wouldn’t call on me,
Because the answer was in my head
But couldn’t reach my lips.
My brother would taunt me mercilessly,
Sometimes my father would, too.
There was even a song.
But the worst were the faces of those
Trying to comprehend my hum-like blather.
They knew not to interrupt,
Not to finish my sentence
As I m-m-m’d and n-n-n’d before them,
A jester performing embarrassing acts at gunpoint.
They couldn’t look in my eyes,
So they would avert their eyes and find my trembling lips
As I vainly attempted to be understood.
Their eyes would soften in a fascinated reverie,
Staring at my mouth:
My mouth a toy spinning for their bemused well-meaning
I despised them for their silent pity,
I envied them their minds that could so easily
Place fully formed words on their tongues.
Now my words glide as effortlessly as a gull downwind,
And I take for granted the gift that was bestowed upon me
Too gradually and too late,
As I blend into the background still,
My raspy New York voice a buzzing din,
And me a dull watercolor,
Many years ago
Painted by a desperate child
Without a voice.


Lying in bed naked,

Listening to James McMurtry

With my eyes in their surety

Of soreness and lack of faith,

Feeling my beard and sadness,

Thinking exclusively in lower


I stretch my naked

Body under the spinning of

The ceiling fan and that old

Ache feels familiar as always

And the coolness of my body

Makes me smile in spite of sad-


Lying in bed naked,

Turning off the light and trying

To get my body in position,

Long past waiting for the call

That never comes, content now

Just to lie in bed and merely


For the one call

This is inevitable.

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