The Stammer

We are two-minded, my tongue and I.
It is always like this: I mean
to say That house is tall.
or God is one. But the tongue
has another opinion. It wants

to be heard. We are like Mishnah,
two sparrows disputing
a morsel of law. I grapple
with my tongue as Jacob
wrestled with the angel

for a word. From this clash
of intentions I've learned
to hold back, to listen:
the voice at my shoulder when I
try to speak, saying

Wait. The tongue
is a caged beast, an animal
wild to escape. Compel it,
and it will elude you. Released,
it will yield to your lightest

desire. Soft, and the sounds that need
to speak themselves will flow.
Be gentle and the words will come like deer
to water or a woman to love.

by Jean Nordhaus

added December 11, 1996