Poem: “Lip-Reading” by Leigh Ann

4 by 3 grid showing different cartoon mouth shapes for English phonemes. Top left to right: A, E, I; then an O shape; then a mouth labeled C, D, N, S, T, X, Y, Z; and a mouth for G, K. Second row: a shape for L; then a pair of pressed lips for B, M, P; then a mouth for F, V; then a mouth for Ee. Bottom row: mouth shape showing the T-H sound; then a mouth for C-H, J, and Sh; then one for U; and last for Q and W.

It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle 

With no reference picture and, sometimes, 

With no edge pieces. 

I stare hard at moving lips, always a phoneme 

(or two, or three, or four) behind the conversation, 

While my brain plays the matching game 

With puzzle pieces that constantly change 

Colors and shapes and get lost among 

The pieces from other puzzle boxes. 

I have a warped piece that won’t fit without a bit of force— 

But while I work on that, 

Turning it round, and round, and round to try all its sides, 

Other pieces are slipping off the edge of the table 

Into the silence where I cannot touch them. 

Quiet consonants and inaudible vowels are 

All meaningless as I try to keep up, to catch up, 

To combobulate from the discombobulation 

That is one of the too many puzzles 

Spread out on my overflowing table; 

I try to figure it out, put the pieces together fast enough 

To respond, to participate, 

Try to ignore the fact that everyone else has completed 

Their puzzles while mine looks like the aftermath 

Of a monopoly game gone inevitably bad, 

(And no one has ever been able to find the shoe piece since 

And no one can afford to buy Park Place)—do not pass GO, 

Do not collect $200 because these hearing aids 

Cost a total of $6,000 even though they don’t help 

Put together the puzzle; they only make the colors brighter. 

Then hovering hands over moving lips mute the colors, conceal 

What little of the puzzle I was able to piece together, 

Blocking my progress and pushing more pieces 

Over the edge of my overflowing table. 


I pour all of myself into solving the daily, 

Ever-changing multitudes of puzzles 

Even as I’m wearing down, wearing down; 

Even as more pieces tumble into the quiet, 

As I’m wearing down, wearing down; 

Even as the puzzle in front of me becomes unsolvable, 

As I’m wearing down, wearing down; 

Even as the batteries in my hearing aids and laptop are 

Wearing down, wearing down, 

Until there’s nothing left of me to wear down 

And all the phonemes have fallen on my deaf ears, 

Meaning lost in the jumble of a failed puzzle 

Missing seventy-five of the hundred pieces which would 

Make it whole. So I put away 

The leftover pieces 

With a laugh and a nod, 

And pretend I’ve solved the puzzle after all. 

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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