Art of Language by Mary Ellen Gambutti


Only in my mind can I talk. What about these neuron dashes across the dark screen of my injured brain? Those are the words I cannot form. Nerve signals to my face, tongue and mouth muscles are jammed. Held up. Can’t get through. So, I signal with my left hand to my husband through the bed rails. My right is dead weight.

They tell me each day brings incremental change; that recovery is gradual healing. But, I can’t see improvement. I realize I must learn it all again; that there is no option. To speak, to manipulate my fingers, lift my arm, to stand and walk. And I know in my heart the journey will have no end.

My therapist addresses pictorial recognition. I struggle to make sense of her colorful images, attempt to verbalize what it is I see, although vision, itself, is now impaired. “Mom works in kitchen. Children play in yard.” Simply say what is. Interpret stories of dogs and cats, like in a grade school reader. But I can’t read. And I’m painfully aware what I’m saying isn’t right. Let’s move to the next round: “What does not belong here? Say what’s wrong with the picture.”

Everything is wrong with the picture of whom I now am. Once, an active middle-aged woman, I’m slumped in a wheelchair. Crave sleep. This hemorrhage, out of nowhere. This brain insult. Once, a landscape gardener and designer, writer, wife, mother, daughter. Does this person I don’t recognize leave, and myself return to my family? My friends? To myself? At times, I have little hope.

But the speech therapist tells me, “Apraxia is a defect of motor planning.” She says, “Keep working to say what you mean. Practice.” Still, what comes out sounds much different from what I want to say. “Slow down, take your time.”

My words are baby talk–how a child begins to speak–jumbled. But this is a horror—not a delight–gobbledygook. Even the hands of the clock make no sense. Numbers. Impossible to make myself understood on the phone; to converse. I try, and out comes nonsense. Words flow meaningless.

Will I put my feelings into words? Expression must return to bring me to life. I learn again the art of language–to speak a new language. And it is my own.


Mary Ellen Gambutti’s work appears or is forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, Remembered Arts Journal, Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, NatureWriting, PostCard Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, CarpeArte, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, mac(ro)mic, SoftCartel, Drabble, FewerThan500, and BellaMused and Contemporary Haibun Online. Her book is Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back. She resides in Sarasota, Fl. Find her at

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