Afternoons I visited her, and
beneath the rainfall on her roof
cotton blankets wrapped around us I
drank in each of her syllables. She helped me
find the right shape with my own tongue,
giving my hand a squeeze when I got one right.
Half my words were nonsense. She pretended not to notice.
I envied her vocabulary, and hoped one day I would be able to
jinx her with a word like inconsequential or trivial or barbaric and
know what it meant. You’ve probably guessed I
loved her. So I stuck around like the smell of
mulch in her backyard. I remember she took
me there once to smell the jasmine. She
never minded when I pronounced the word wrong
or forgot which flowers are feminine, so I thought she loved me back.
Pity me. Imagine the
quiet tears I shed when I finally
remembered the shape of those words.
She had helped me sound them out
thinking they were for someone else.
Time after time I practiced until the
vortex of sound opened up to me and on
Wednesday I told her I loved her and the
xenial melody of her voice responded
yes. That’s how you pronounce it.
Chloe Kerr-Stein will be studying Writing and Literature at UCSB in the fall. She has studied at the California State Summer School for the Arts and the Kenyon Young Writer’s Studio. She has been published in the 826 Quarterly, The Junkyard, and the Bay Area Book Festival’s Youth Poetry Anthology.