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Breath & Shadow

A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature

Winter 2015

Volume 12 Issue 1

 

 

Breath and Shadow
  Winter 2015

Volume 12 Issue 1

Songed to Silenced

By Tasha Raella Chemel



I.


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.



II.


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


was jarring.



III.


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.



IV.


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


envy her.



V.


Horseback riding is a reprieve.


The creature beneath me demands


that I put aside my own rhythm


for his.



VI.


I crave resonance the way some people


crave sugar--


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.



VII.


In my own iteration


Of Ariel's transition to voicelessness,


There are no warnings.


No precision.


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


between


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.










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