Tuesday 11 September 2018


by Joan Leotta

My dear friend, Arlene,
called in March—
our monthly “catch-up” or
so I thought, until she rushed
past “hello” to shout,
"I lose words!" at me.
Could I restart with hello?
Startled, instead, I groped for
words of comfort that fell
into a silent world on her end,
until she finally hung up.
We tried continuing our calls.
Always now she speaks little
afraid to show what she
cannot recall.
Once, there were so many
words, hours on the phone,
even made-up words,
out own teen lexicography—
fifty years ago.
Through college, marriage,
husbands, words held us
close not matter the space
miles put between us.
Memories recounted,
new experience, better,
brighter for being shared.

In June, I heard the new
Spanish song, Despacito.
My mind stalled on the word
I wondered, Is that a new
word? One I never learned?
A South American dialect word?
After all, I lived in Madrid,
spoke Spanish at the
almost native speaker level.
theta and all. I looked it up:
slowly, the same, now and then.
Fifty years ago.

There it was, alongside despacio.
In use for centuries,
in Spain and all over.
An ordinary, everyday word—slowly.
I tried to imagine myself
speaking it in Madrid—
Mas despacio por favor—to a cab driver?
Camino muy despacio
cuando estoy cansada,
to a friend walking down
Gran Via after shopping at
El Corte Ingles?
I remember what I had for
dinner at Casa Botin to celebrate
my 21st birthday
(cuchinillo asado y alcachofas con jamon).
When did despacito fall out
of my Spanish language vocabulary.
Did it leave a hole when it fell away?
Is it now firmly lodged again
filling the slowly lacuna in my brain?

Worst of all, I suspect
other such black holes
have opened in the
verbal expressions of my soul
and worse, more are forming.
More words, entire chunks
of memory will fall off
like slabs of glacier into
a sea of nothingness.
Will disappear.
My fear is that soon lacunae
will stretch wide and far
across the landscape of
my heart and mind,
creating a vast terra cognita
that will swallow me up.
If I have no words
who, how will I be?

* * * * *

Joan Leotta, www.joanleotta.wordpress.com, is an author and story performer. Her books include Giulia Goes to War, Letters from Korea, A Bowl of Rice, Secrets of the Heart, historical fiction in Legacy of Honor Series, Simply a Smilea collection of short stories, and WHOOSH!—a picture book.

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