Pectoriloquy |

Speaking of Words— FREE TO VIEW

Matthew Thorburn
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Editor’s Note: The author writes, “My wife’s work as a speech pathologist fascinates me, and the idea of not being able to articulate my thoughts in language scares me.” Matthew Thorburn lives in New York City, where he works in corporate communications for an international law firm.

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Chest. 2014;145(2):411. doi:10.1378/chest.13-1122
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or not speaking
actually—speech pathology
is Lily’s
work: what happens
when words
fail or can’t be found,
when the sounds don’t come
out right or
at all, the way it’s hard
for me even now
to talk
about you. Though it’s not
like grief is
a physical affliction
like aphasia—
sudden numbing loss
caused by a stroke or blow
to the head, crash
down the stairs, some gut-
reaction act
of bravery gone
in an instant (a gun pulled?
knife flicked out?)
horribly wrong. Or sometimes
children are just born
this way, slow
to get going, big-eyed
but silent. Or—
“there’s almost always
another or,” Lily says, “because
we’re human”—
or their parents aren’t
from here and so
speak another language,
Chinese or Urdu, Finnish
or Flemish, and so
it takes them longer
to learn
this one. I wish you
could see her at Brightest
Star Charter
School: glasses pushed up
in her hair, Lily
sits on the hard carpet
with a once-
scared six-year-old who’s
smiling, who’s suddenly—
suddenly after weeks
with picture
books, with flashcards,
after weeks with
music, with games and songs
and puppets—saying
something. You see
maybe the tongue doesn’t know
where to go. It takes time
but you can re-teach it, usually—
the brain’s wiring
is sometimes re-
wire-able. Or the breath
doesn’t do
its pushing or
the twisty extension cord
between brain and mouth
needs plugging back in
so that bolt
of lightning synaptic translation—
of thought to electricity
to motion—can
The tongue taps
the palate. Vocal chords
hum. Warm
air rushes out as the soft
shy six-year-old
voice we’ve waited so long
to hear.




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