I write you a love poem in a language far removed from my own. With words I’d never utter for you to hear.
When I read it for you, I replace five-syllabled words with memorized sounds. I want you to admire the poet.
You edit me, always gently. Puh-thet-ic, not pah-thet-ic. En-grows-d, not en-graws-d. Ignore is simple, but ignorance is different.
I ask you, half-jokingly, if you’d correct a French woman. Or an Italian.
You sigh. You say that’s different.
I don’t understand. My questions go to sleep in my throat.
You hear me humming. You say I should sing for you sometime. But you don’t tell me your favorite song.
You say I have an “oh, honey” voice when I talk to men. You ask me if I need your help opening a jar. With a knife, I show you how to release the air pressure that keeps the jar sealed. You tell me it’s not about science. You ask me why I sound so sweet if I don’t really need you.
You tell me frogs hear with their mouths. And that spiders can actually hear great, even without ears. And then you crank up the volume.
Can you hear me at all, with your tongue when it touches mine, or when I whisper your name?
I can’t kiss you or nibble your earlobes without thinking of frogs and spiders.
You ask me why I sound hurt when you’re the one who’s hurt. As if we can’t both bleed on the same battlefield.
I tell you I don’t want to die. I cry, silenced by your chest.
You tell me you don’t get it. You don’t know what to say. And you never come up with the right words for it, ever.
You tell me the k sound when I say fuck is sharp enough to cut a diamond. My s sounds like a hiss.
And I’m trapped.
It’s called voice box for a reason.
I don’t think you believe me, but this isn’t how I usually sound. Not the right decibel level or the right depth. Not my voice. Not my laughter. Paranoia and hysteria are not my second and third languages.
I don’t know who she is. Or where she’s gone.
You tsk when I pronounce a word wrong again. I say say-dis-tick, you say suh-dis-tick, but what does it matter when we’re both talking about the politics of pleasure and pain?
At the party, someone tells me I’ve begun to sound like you a lot. She asks me if I remember what I used to sound like before I met you.
I ask her if she does. If she could remind me, please.
You say I’ve changed. I’m not the me you used to know. I don’t sound like me anymore.
This is what a vacuum feels like, a place where sound can’t travel and no word is home.
I move my lips to your name. It feels alien to my tongue, a foreign language.
I call you to ask, hey, did you ever hear me? What did I sound like?
I call you not to hear your voice, but to hear mine. Instead, I hang up, silent, forgetting how to speak once more.
Neeru Nagarajan is an Indian Tamil writer. Her work appears in Middle House Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, The Forge Literary Magazine, Hypertext, and elsewhere. She's @poonaikaari on Twitter.