When I was six years old, I fell into a coma.
I was out for about two weeks, but when I awoke I discovered several things:
- A packet of letters and flowers from my kindergarten classmates wishing me to get well.
- A room full of strange doctors.
- My memories had disappeared.
- My voice had disappeared.
The earliest thing I can remember was being in the coma. It was dark, except for a tiny pinhole of light right in the center.
Sometimes I would sleep a dreamless sleep, but sometimes I would wake up, be aware of myself, and I would be there in the dark space.
It is not like being in a dark room, it is more like being immersed in dark water. It is both claustrophobic and comforting.
My mother tells me that before the coma I was not shy and quiet, I was gregarious, I was naturally very social. After the coma, that changed. My voice didn’t seem to work correctly, I knew the words that I wanted to say, but they didn’t come out right or they didn’t come out at all.
The nurses taught me sign language and I received speech therapy afterwards and I got to a point where I could pass for “back to normal.”
Except I wasn’t, but I didn’t discover that until much later.
These early problems with speech and language making is called aphasia. It is a common side effect after a coma, but at the time of my coma, they did not understand as much about it. Some people do not recover from aphasia as well as I did. Some people’s voices are still trapped inside themselves long after their comas.
Some people’s aphasia also effects different language making capacities. Some people may not be able to write a complete sentence, but they can speak it eloquently. Some can only type letters, but not draw them with a pencil. Some simply replace words or repeat words; others do not speak at all.
This early difficulty with finding a strong external voice made me two things:
1. Very good at reading (college level at age 7)
2. Terrible at penmanship and public speaking
And I experienced that all the way through high school and into college.
…Until, I discovered poetry.
You see, poetry’s line breaks teach you how to read the line, when to pause, when to lift your voice or lower it, and I discovered, that through a line break, I could read out loud a little easier. James Scully talks about the line break in Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. I will certainly be talking more about him later in the blog
And I learned that if I could read a line of poetry out loud easier than I should certainly be able to speak out loud a little easier if I thought of my statements as line breaks.
Of course, these lessons were not being made fully conscious to me as I was learning them, it was only recently that this became apparent of what I was learning.
So I studied poetry in college at the time because it was something I not only did well, but it also challenged me. I learned how to write it, how to read it, how to speak it. And thus, my voice became a poet’s voice.