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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2015 - Vol. 12, Issue 1

"Songed to Silenced"

written by

Tasha 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

was jarring.



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

envy her.



Horseback riding is a reprieve.

The creature beneath me demands

that I put aside my own rhythm

for his.



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.



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


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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