Shut Up, Gladys


Full of opinions, he held court

while she sat quietly by.

They’d come for a visit, a neighborly occasion.

He pounded his knee with a fisted hand.

The vein on his neck like a gathering snake.

She said, Now dear?

And he said, Shut up, Gladys.

Can’t you see I’m talking?


Sundays she recited from the Book of Common Prayer

could repeat the Our Father and the Very God of Very God,

sing hymns and deliver Amens, chant

All things come of Thee, O Lord,

and the Confession of Sins.


A devout woman, who polished

the altar brass each Saturday,

she subsided into wifely obedience.


Prepared next time to sit in silence,

she smiled pleasantly at her hostess,

and with those fingers that each week

arranged flowers for Morning Prayer

and made the chalice gleam

she drew yarn from the skein

and looped it over the needle.


He glowered in mid-harangue and said,

Gladys, put that knitting down.

Can’t you see I’m talking?

Without a sigh, she laid her hands in her lap

and sat idle, looking in his direction.


She was born with the ability to utter

all the sounds in all the languages on earth,

the potential to speak the words of

Shakespeare, Goethe, Lao Tse.


After he stroked out and set her free,

she opened her mouth and no sound came.

Those little weeds of other voice he’d rooted out

so relentlessly from his garden,

those small bands stretched across the larynx,

would not respond, had lost the will

to tense and vibrate

lay useless as the old garters

fallen round her ankles.


She could not bark, cry, howl, groan, growl, or chirp.

Could not call for a bedpan or a bowl of soup.

Now she sits, staring, unmoving.


The wafer had once melted on her tongue.

The wine had moistened her throat.


┬ęBarbara Fryrear 2003