Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Breath and Shadow
Volume 12 Issue 1
Songed to Silenced
By Tasha Raella Chemel
My father and I played and replayed the scene in the Little Mermaid
in which Ariel relinquishes her voice.
"Has she lost it?" I would ask.
"Not yet," my father would say. "Shhh. Listen."
And then we'd find that exact second
where the singing would cut off-
a mercifully sterilized transition.
I never imagined that my fingers would be so loyal.
Neither did the engineers.
They blindfolded me
and put a picture of a color wheel on a computer screen.
I found the drops and rises
by touch, as if I were climbing a flight of stairs.
There was no question that they believed
my claim that I could feel colors.
One of them, who sounded as young as a fraternity brother
told me he had tears in his eyes.
For about half an hour, I felt like Howard Roark,
infallible and omnipotent
capable of bending the laws of physics
so that I could gain admission
to a world where I was not allowed.
Then, on our way back from lunch
a colleague asked me if I had considered a guide dog
and his question, his tiny, innocent question
The National Federation of the Blind sued Target
for failing to make its website accessible.
They boycotted Goodwill
for underpaying disabled workers.
Ajax and CAPTCHAs have stolen hours of my time
and I have not been spared the oiled dismissal
of an interviewer's glance.
My clan has been singing me back for decades
from a hollowed distance,
as if I were on land
and they underwater.
I have dinner with a blind friend and she tells me
when she takes the subway, she doesn't register
the absence of color;
instead, she notes the pitch of the whistle
the timbre of the announcer's monotone.
When she holds up a pill bottle
for her mother's identification
only to realize that the label is upside-down
or that her hand is obscuring it
she does not engage in an existential discussion
about how her perception of things is irreparably
skewed, out of alignment with her mother's.
She just laughs and moves on.
I both envy and do not
Horseback riding is a reprieve.
The creature beneath me demands
that I put aside my own rhythm
I crave resonance the way some people
a craving so intense
that it trumps my very survival-
if I had to choose
I would rather grope and flail for a moment
for my glass of water, my napkin, my knife
and continue the conversation
than lose my interlocutor
to a lengthy spew of directional detail.
In my own iteration
Of Ariel's transition to voicelessness,
There are no warnings.
The inroads I make into your world
can be undone with a breath.
I could be telling you how blue is smoother than red
but when some lady in an SUV cuts you off
your attention tugs you
to a place I cannot follow.
I remain caught in the flux
songed and silenced.
Tasha Chemel is a poet and teacher. She is transabled (physically-blind but sighted-identified) and hopes to create a safe space for other transabled people. She began Harvard's Arts in Education program this fall.