0. aphasia, n.

Etymology: modern Latin, <Greek ἀϕασία, n. of quality < ἄϕατος speechless, < ἀ priv.+ ϕά-ναι to

speak (compare ϕάσ-ις speech).

Pathol. Loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language,

as a result of disorder of the cerebral speech centers.


On the phone you

are failing

the Turing test.

In the static

I hear the stasis

of your tongue.


Bad daughter that I am,

I did not think of you

once today. I didn’t think

of the bump beneath your hair

where the shunt crosses

the skin of your brain.

I didn’t hear the echo

of your broken voice

over my thoughts as I read.

I didn’t wonder

how long it takes you

to climb the split-level stairs

of our family house, whether

you are trapped inside

so you can stay

safe. I didn’t imagine

your neurons throwing

their electrical arcs

into walls of dead matter.

I didn’t feel my hand

cramp in anticipation

of the forms I will sign

sooner than I can face:

didn’t picture the sterile light

of a hospital room

we will decorate, not knowing

if you can notice

such things.

I forgot you

today, for hours,

and my own skull

felt clear and ordered,

a clock with no hands.


You bought my first dictionary

from a dusty bookshop so

I could go to college camp,

the island of misfit teens.

In my room I unwrapped

the plastic and markered my name

on the inside cover.

I didn’t know then

what your gift would unlock,

the secret world of words

and their birth pangs.

I traced the dialects

snaking across the map

of North America; I climbed

each branch of the linguistic tree;

I arrowed back in time

to Proto -Indo -European,

the hidden names of names.

Yours: Barbara: from the Greek,

Barbaros, a barbarian,

a stranger who cannot speak.

Laura Passin is a writer, scholar, and feminist at large. She earned her PhD in English Literature at Northwestern and her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. Her writing has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Prairie SchoonerAdrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer WomenThe ToastRolling StoneElectric Literature, and Best New Poets 2013. Laura lives in Denver with too many pets.