Foreign Accent Syndrome


The knotty folds of flesh and thought

must contain the roots of words, French and

German, tonal Mandarin, thrusting like black

icicles, thin shards through the other rummage of

our brains. Occasionally a lode’s unlocked, a

link loosened. During the war, an American pilot

shot down under friendly fire and convalescing

began talking in tongues, chatty and fluent in

his enemies’ language, but lost to his own.


It happens sometimes, a hard knock, a

rattling blow, and a North Idaho native begins

talking in Russian, the cleats of his contemplation

slipping and worn. Our hope in this is for erasure

of our common difference. Let there be a

clever Rosetta stone submersed in the wordless

babble of brain. Perhaps the young combatants

in this latest war could be made to talk? If only the

suspicion of difference could be cleaved from us.


But it’s a transitory affliction, a temporary change:

the young pilot improves and forgets his

facility, the Idaho window-cleaner falls into

coma and is struck silent. Their suspicious accents,

condemning consonants absorbed in the ineffable

scramble of their thoughts. It doesn’t matter. Though

I have always had a common language with my son,

both of us branching from the same bitter tree, we

have never been able to understand each other.

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